What Do You Say When Invited Back to Speak at Your Old High School?

i-d476147f475c03dfeaded3f3483fbf75-isidorenewman.jpgThat's the quandary I face tomorrow, when I'll be returning to New Orleans' Isidore Newman School--alma mater of, among others, Peyton and Eli Manning, Walter Isaacson, and Michael Lewis--to talk to the senior class.

This isn't entirely a shot in the dark, as the seniors are taking a course on the environment, and I'm their speaker as they move into a section on Hurricane Katrina. So it's obvious that I'm to talk mostly about Storm World and the hurricane-global warming debate.

At the same time, though, that won't suffice...roughly thirteen years ago, I was one of these seniors. I feel like I need to have something bigger to say to them, beyond being entertaining, beyond making jokes about pachyderm posteriors, and beyond explaining the hurricane-climate debate.

I'm racking my brain, while also well aware that trying too hard to be profound is the worst thing I could do. So, I'm open to suggestions.....

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What a cool opportunity! No doubt this one will be a very special event. As for suggestions, I think you should post your high school yearbook photo to inspire us ;)

Discuss your transition from Isidore Newman senior to now. Encourage them to think independently, engage in the issues that are most important to them, and take an active role in creating the world they envision.

I have full confidence you'll deliver an extraordinary talk and look forward to hearing about it...

I bet they'll be interested in your vocational choices and what you did in college and how they relate, since that's what they're going to be doing soon themselves. Maybe talk about your favorite teachers at the school (especially the ones still there) and maybe something about what it's like to be a reporter in DC? I would have a long question and answer period and really open things up.

By Jon Winsor (not verified) on 19 Mar 2008 #permalink

Great opportunity. Keep 'em interested and engaged.

Just ask "What questions do you have?", instead of "Does anyone have any questions?"

First, you might remind them that the best high school football in the state is played in East Baton Rouge Parish . . . Sorry, but I had to get that in. I think you could have a really frank discussion about how their lives have changed as a result of Katrina, and you can talk to them frankly about how your own world view has changed after that event. You might also see how they see the "recovery" efforts that are ongoing.

Separate from that, I hope you will use your time down there to gather information that can be used here and elsewhere to highlight the significant challenges that remain. With the fringin marsh now all but gone, another Cat 3 storm following a similar path could finish my second favorite Louisiana city off.

Geaux Tigers!

Never miss an opportunity to plug the importance to *everyone* of learning critical thinking skills. And, since they are seniors, most will be able to vote for the first time this fall; so urge them to become responsible citizens by exercising that right.

You should definitely trace your steps from leaving Isidore Newman to coming back to give a talk. Try to show how small decisions or actions can make big changes in your life.

I went to high school in a small mill town in North Carolina, and I always felt it seemed like nobody ever got out of there.
High school kids all want to know that it's possible to do great things (as you have) no matter where you come from. Deep down, that's the American dream, right?

By Harry Abernathy (not verified) on 19 Mar 2008 #permalink

Nothing beats sincerity. Talk about what moves you, what you feel when you think about walking back into that building, and then how the real walk compares. Give them a piece of YOU. Much better than advice. They don't want advice, but they will be drawn into you telling your story so long as your story isn't driven by vanity. Show them your mistakes as a big part of the story, of course.

roughly thirteen years ago, I was one of these seniors.

At the risk of sounding gay, you look about 4 - 5 years younger than your true age. Makes it easier to talk to younger girls, doesn't it? hahaha, no seriously though, I bring it up to tell you not to mention this at all to the students.

If they think you're in your mid-20s, they will actually take what you say seriously, since teenagers look up to early-mid 20s people as potentially cool and relevant. If they hear that you're 30 or older, then you're instantly an irrelevant old geezer. I tutored kids for years, trust me on this.

They won't suspect it, so just avoid mentioning exactly when you graduated -- and make sure the people who introduce you avoid it too.

You could also remind the students how lucky they are to be in an elite private school in a state with one of the worst public education systems in the country. It needs to be reinforced how advantaged they are compared to the poor of New Orleans and Louisiana - a much lower student-teacher ratio, guidance counselors with connections to highly selective colleges across the country, and lots of coaching on standardized tests gives the priveleged class a big leg up on the peons!

Thanks for all the advice folks. Mark, the problem is, we all known writers *are* driven by vanity, no?

Seriously I have processed all the comments and you guys have really helped my (last minute) thought process. I will let you all known how it goes.

Chris did a great job today. Unfortunately, the hour (well, only 50 minutes) grew late--how time flies when you're having fun--leaving little time for the questioning to get revved up. We should have kept better track on our end. My conversations with kids suggest that he connected.

Beforehand, I suggested to Chris that it may be a tough audience (though it didn't turn out that way), and not just because it was the day before Spring Break. Since January, they have studied global warming, peak oil, and resource depletion--a regular "doom-a-thon"--and now Katrina, hurricane protection, and wetlands loss. It can wear you down. In a few weeks, they will be building houses for Habitat for Humanity. In the fall, it was narcotics (locally, and international drug traffic), crime, housing and the credit crisis, and education in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Chris did a good job of introducing himself and engaging the students with some self-deprecating humor and personal anecdotes, then got down to some hurricane business and the interface between science and the media. I think Chris left a message that resonated and urged students to widen their horizons and try to connect various aspects of their lives and careers in novel ways.

Always good to see you, Chris. Good luck in your enterprises and hope to see you back here again soon.

By Doc Gendel (not verified) on 20 Mar 2008 #permalink