“Are you okay Dr. Bradford?”
Kid with glasses makes me nervous, must be honor society, I was honor society
“I'm fine. I just have issues with public speaking.”
and this fucking room, why did it have to be here?
“I saw your speech on gun violence before the House Committee. You seemed so eloquent.”
“I was sweating buckets, but thanks”
drink water, straighten tie, stick to the story.
“Can You get me a yearbook from 1983, I need to confirm some data.”
There are no yearbooks from 1983.
Patience, the Dean of Students can't talk forever, god knows he'll try, but he's dull. That's why I'm here. I'm a litigator, an expert on gun control reform, I've spoken to presidents, made speeches in front of Senate Committees.
I will be fine
as soon as the terror stops
“students, parents, families and friend. When we chose tonight's speaker, we wanted to make sure that he was a person of great character, a person of substance and moral fiber. So when I say we have found a speaker worthy of being called the best and the brightest ever to be shaped by the time they spent here at James Bricker Academy, I can hold hold this person up as example of the excellence we strive for. This man was a National Honor Society member, President of the photography club, Editor of the student literary review, and Valedictorian for the class of 1986.
May I present, Author, Lawyer, and Statesman, Dr. Michael Bradford”
(applause)walk and breathe and walk and breathe
“Thank you very much. I'm here to talk to you about the future, about life and college and how to reach for your dreams.”Clear throat
“I spent 4 years here at Bricker Academy and spent most of them working my ass off. At age 15 my life was school, school related things, homework, and occasionally I spent time talking to my therapist about school, school related things, and homework.
“My fine introduction mentioned that I was Valedictorian, not Prom King, not All State Athlete, not Class Clown. Valedictorians can be invisible, for the most part. I learned my first year here that it's best not to be noticed, to keep your head down
“I'm not gonna lie to you now, I was an unhappy kid. My life was books and study and therapy. I only had one friend, but he was the best.
“The teachers called him Jerry, which he hated. His name was Gerard T. Collins and he spent far too much of his life telling people that particular fact. His name was not Gerald or Jerry and if you knew him at all you called him Gerard. The folks who didn’t know Gerard referred to him as “Spaz”, “Freak” or, on especially hurtful occasions “Weird Boy” The last one was used mostly by upper class men and cheerleaders.
“In 1982, Gerard turned 14 years old. I remember because I was to turn 14 two days later, and I spent those two days bugging him about how it felt to be 14. Somehow, in the back of my head, I was convinced that 14 was when you became a big kid. You stopped being afraid of stuff. The Monsters beneath your bed disappeared, you no longer got the shit kicked out of you after school and girls found you instantly attractive. I have grown to learn that all these things are fallacious and, in hindsight, I should have held on to 13 for as long as I could.
“The Summer of 1982 was filled with stories of the Tylenol Killer and the AIDS scare, Tommy Tutone was sharing Jenny’s phone number with anyone who listened to top 40 radio. Gerard and I spent our time reviewing old Playboy magazines, stolen from our fathers. Hoping that they would make more sense this time around.
“We were all set to start our new school. James Bricker Academy seemed like a glowing Xanadu. It was just the local public High School with a fancy name, but to us...it was the start of reinvention. Gerard had come to the decision that he was no longer going to be looked down upon. Spaz, Freak, Weird Boy, all things of the past.
“I remember our first day of class. Gerard walking around with his head held high and Humming “Eye of the Tiger” in his head. It was supposed to be different, but it wasn’t. Jocks and cheerleaders called him Weird Boy. They called him Spaz as they slammed him into the lockers. The taunts of “Freak” echoed as we got the shit kicked out of us after school.
“Looking around the halls, I can see the adventures of that year, replayed in my mind. I can see Gerard getting his arm broken in the hall way, His ribs bruised out by the the James Bricker Academy sign, the one that reads 'Educating for a better tomorrow'.
“I never really thought about it. I was just the sidekick of “Weird Boy”, friend of the freak, just a Spaz associate, and you think that all of that would matter to me, but Gerard was my friend. He helped me get through Algebra. He lived in my room for three days after my Mom died. When I think of the time I ran away from home. It was Gerard who ran with me. It was Gerard who called my Dad from the pay phone in the library and told him where we were. Those things mattered.
“I spent the school year of 82/83 being tossed into lockers and dumpsters. I had my clothes stolen while I showered after gym class. I was beaten and humiliated on a regular basis, and I didn’t care. Gerard had taken some serious hits for me and I was, sure as hell, not gonna let him go through this alone. Gerard was my friend and that, more than anything else, meant something.
“I realize that I’ve been talking forever, I’m supposed to be talking about your future, not my past. When they asked me to come back to the hallowed halls of James Bricker Academy and make this speech at your graduation all I could think of is Gerard Collins. I think about how he came to this school everyday in hopes that maybe it was going to be the day when no one treated him like shit. Where no one called him Spaz or Freak or Weird Boy, He would have settled for someone calling him Jerry.
“I’m telling you these things because the curriculum at Bricker is lacking. It is lacking today in the same way it was lacking then. There is no class in kindness, no awards given for excellence in the treatment of other human beings. Kids believe what they’re told, especially what they are told everyday.
“My friend, Gerard T. Collins was told he was a Spaz, a Freak. They called him Weird Boy. On May 27th 1983, Gerard T. Collins, my best friend in the whole world, attended an assembly much like this one. At 12:43 pm he place a .38 caliber revolver under his chin and pulled the trigger.
“He didn’t leave a note, he didn’t say goodbye, we all watched it. I was standing next to him when he pulled the trigger. I didn’t even know it was happening until it was over. It never made the papers. They talked about AIDS and they caught the Tylenol Killer and something happened in politics, but no one told the story of Weird Boy. No one knew that he lived in my room for three days when my Mom died.
“We all went to another assembly, we were told the counselor was available. I spent 3 months away from school when my therapist thought it best that I return to Bricker. I learned to keep my head down, learned to be invisible.”
There are no yearbooks from 1983
“In 1986 I graduated from James Bricker Academy. I got as far away as college acceptance letters allowed, and I swore I’d never return to the scene of the crime. So when I was asked to come back to give this speech, when they called me one of their most successful alumni, when they said I was a shining example of a Bricker Academy education...I threw up a little.”drink water
“I keep remembering that sign in front of the building 'Educating for a Better Tomorrow' and I think of how this institution has failed you all
“I came here to tell you this story. I came here to tell you that the most important person who ever went to this institution was Gerard T. Collins. He was kind, and no one ever took the chance to find that out. No one ever taught that it was the most important thing to be. Not on the street and definitely not in the halls of Old Bricker.
“I was asked to come here today and offer advice on how to be successful after you leave this place. The only thing I can tell you is “learn to be kind”. It’s harder and more important than anything else.”
“Thank you for your attention”walk away
copyright 2016 David Hargarten/Buddha309