Carnett: A look back at my '62 speech

As I contemplate matters, I stand mystified at the burden unexpectedly placed on my scrawny shoulders in May 1962.

What were they thinking?

Fortunately, I was a clueless 17-year-old high school youth who paid scant attention to his responsibilities and was too dumb to be nervous.

In preparing recently for Costa Mesa High School's 50th class reunion (which, by the way, was a huge success!), I opened a trunk in my closet storing yearbooks, photo albums and mementos. I hadn't glanced at its contents in decades.

While surveying this treasure trove, I came across a script I'd written for a 10-minute speech I delivered a month before I graduated. I hadn't once thought about it since.

In the spring of '62, I won the district finals of the Lions Club High School Speech Contest. Someone in authority at the school — in a moment of sheer madness — asked me to address parents and students attending an awards banquet before the high school's first graduation.

Okaaay.

I was to publicly acknowledge student successes achieved during Mesa's formative years. I titled my clever opus "Milestones at Mesa."

As I recall — like everything else I did as a high school student — it was thrown together at the last possible moment. I doubt I cleared it with anyone.

"Time is running out!"

That was my opening salvo — a short, declarative statement. It was a technique I'd learned from my high school journalism teacher. Declarative sentences can be effective for capturing an audience's attention.

"In just a few days, Costa Mesa High will graduate its first senior class," I continued. "It seems almost impossible, doesn't it?"

I went back to the beginning.

"I can remember that day almost four years ago when I stood in line outside the library, nervously waiting to register for Costa Mesa High. There must have been 400 other kids in line, and I doubt I knew 20% of them. Then, Costa Mesa High didn't mean nearly as much to me as it does today."

With tongue in cheek, I described how my academic hopes during high school had ebbed like a perigean spring tide.

"When I was a freshman, I dreamed of the day I'd attend a prestigious Eastern school and become a doctor, lawyer or statesman." Had my counselor, Mr. Pritchard, seen an advance copy of my script he'd have taken his red pen to that passage and justifiably accused me of blowing more smoke than a set of worn piston rings.

"As a sophomore, I became a bit more realistic but dreamed of attending a prominent West Coast academy and pursuing a career in public relations."

Public relations? What irony! I used that reference solely to set up a lame gag in the next paragraph, but public relations actually became the profession I pursued for the next 50 years.

"As a junior," my interminable narrative continued, "I thought, 'Oh well, a state college won't be so bad. I can look forward to a career in sales.'"

Finally, the payoff.

"Now, as a senior, I say, 'Thank goodness for the unemployment office!'"

Ba-dump-bump. Ugh!

"We've certainly changed our way of thinking the last four years, and some of us — myself perhaps excluded — have even grown up."

I proceeded to mention a number of Mesa's athletic, academic and campuswide achievements, including the following:

"Remember the first time we played Newport Harbor High in football? For the information of underclassmen in the room, I'm not referring to this year's varsity game. I mean the C game played the first year of the school's existence, in 1958.

"It was a great game with Newport scoring in the last minute to win, 26-25. Over 600 kids were on hand. I call that spirit!"

I then saluted those receiving academic and athletic honors that evening.

"This room holds Mesa's cream of the crop. You've set standards that will be honored and emulated for years to come."

Spoken like a true visionary.

As I sensed again at the reunion two weekends ago, the class of '62 was — and still is — extraordinary!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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