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Carnett: A look back at my '62 speech

October 01, 2012|By Jim Carnett

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.

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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.

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