I MIGHT NOT HAVE agreed to speak at the Creeds Elementary career day had I known school organizers were going to have me follow the active-duty Navy SEAL.
The thought struck me Monday as I was explaining to a group of fourth-graders the indelible role journalism plays in maintaining a free society.
The special-operations sailor – the father of, no doubt, the most respected kid in school – had just finished telling the students about the state-of-the-art weapons he and his cohorts use to obliterate bad guys. I was standing in front of them holding a blank note pad, encouraging the students to study hard in reading and writing so they, too, could someday report on Standards of Learning test results and school budget workshops.
The first yawn came about two minutes into my lecture. And why not?
Last month a team of Virginia Beach-based SEALs swooped into Pakistan in the dark of night, broke into a heavily fortified compound, killed the world’s most wanted terrorist and extracted a treasure trove of top-secret data, all in about 40 minutes. It took me at least that long to write the first sentence of this column.
These kids had no interest in learning about the day-to-day life of a journalist. Their little eyes began to glaze over. I started to talk about the rigorous editing process at The Pilot but stopped when I noticed a student lay his head on his desk and cover his face with his hands.
A quick glance at the clock. I was only five minutes into my 25-minute presentation. Desperation washed over me.
“When I worked in Ohio,” I blurted out, “I got to interview LeBron James – back before he turned villain and took his talents to South Beach.”
The drowsy eyes widened. Two of the boys who earlier had been taking turns spinning a pencil on their desk turned toward me and sat up in their chairs. I finally had their attention, and I wasn’t about to lose it.
I named every token celebrity I had ever met – Reggie Jackson, Pharrell Williams, that guy who played Mr. Belding on “Saved by the Bell” – and told the class about the time I ran a marathon without training for a story I wrote in college.
“Cooool,” one boy said, obviously impressed by physical ability. I nodded in his direction, basking in my own magnificence.
I abandoned my initial goal of encouraging this video-game generation to put down the remote and pick up a newspaper, and instead boasted about the perks of being a member of the media. Some journalists get paid to watch movies, I told them. Others eat at restaurants and actually are paid to complain about the food. Can you believe it?
Never mind that one of the students had earlier told me she would probably “never read a newspaper” because “don’t they already play the news on TV?” Sure, few if any of these students are likely to become print news subscribers, especially as lifelong members of the digital age. At least they had begun to admire me.
The positive momentum was dashed after I opened the floor for questions. The first hand shot up.
“Have you ever interviewed David Hasselhoff?” the girl asked, narrowing her eyes and waiting silently for my response. A moment later, a boy raised his hand. “Have you ever interviewed a member of SEAL Team 6?”
What little respect the class had for this boyish-looking newspaper reporter was lost when I hung my head and answered both questions, “No.”
This column appeared in the June 19 edition of The Virginia Beach Beacon, a community tab of The Virginian-Pilot.