Archive for February, 2014

Three Speeches by Jeff Bakkensen

Feb 14 2014 Published by under Stories

Class President Brittany Brophy starts us off with a typically sappy speech that draws equal parts laughs and tears and quotes liberally from a selection of pop songs three years past edgy.

“I have no doubt that all of my classmates will go on to do great things,” finishes Brittany, “as long as they are willing to look into their own hearts for the guidance that…”

Cheering.  Parents of Brittany’s field hockey and student government friends rise from their seats beyond the fifty yard line to snap pictures as she retakes her place by the stage’s left edge.

The second speech belongs to Salutatorian Lee Drahusek.  Following protocol, each speaker has previously submitted a title along with a text to be approved by Asst. Principal Holly Whitmore, Ed. D., Brittany’s being Guidance of the Hart – a stretchy pun, of course, on Hart’s Brook and by extension Hart’s Brook High School – and Drahusek’s, the far more descriptive if not exactly catchy Technology in the 21st Century: A Call for Skepticism in the Face of Widespread Adoption.

The thing of course is that Brittany is a natural; Drahusek, not so much.  He’s an A/V kid, a Rube Goldberg tinkerer who repeatedly near failed gym and only got the Salutatorian spot because he was taking all of these high level engineering classes at Hart’s Brook CC.  I mean, he’s clearly brilliant, but not in the public speaking way; he’s more the type to spend his weekend titrating or whatever in his basement, which is why we’re all actually pretty excited to hear what he’s got to say about technology and our need for skepticism, given that he opted off the chess team in order to make time to build his own CPU or whatever, social consequences be damned.

Drahusek waits patiently for the applause and picture-snapping to subside, and then he steps out to the podium.  The entire class is silent, along with our parents in folding chairs behind us.  He spends some time fiddling with the microphone, producing those muffled microphone noises as he lowers it.

“Good afternoon,” he says, and his voice cracks.  Of course it does.  Audience members exchange looks full of private meaning.

“Good afternoon,” he says again.  “My name is Lee Drahusek, and I’d like to speak with you today about the dangers posed by the level of technology employed by most of us on a daily basis.”

We all settle in.

“We will begin with a definition of terms.  For the purpose of this speech, technology will mean all tools which are not found in nature, but are crafted by the human hand.  This microphone,” he gestures, “this paper,” he holds it up, “even the clothes I wear today, are all pieces of technology.  They are in and of themselves neither malevolent nor beneficent.  They are useful in that we are able to deploy them to our own purposes.  However, I am extremely distressed by the increasingly extensive adoption of…”

And it proceeds mostly along those lines.  It’s a very carefully worded speech; Drahusek’s obviously a heavy user of his shift and F7 keys, or, given the skepticism that he’s trying to market, a paper thesaurus.  But it’s coherent and well-practiced.  He looks up from his page at regular intervals.  The opening paragraphs behind him, his voice finds its natural pitch.  In fact, as he goes on, Drahusek becomes louder and clearer, and audience member smirks turn to mouths agape because as he reaches the five minute mark and the meat of his argument, he begins to cast off the timidity that has been one of the prime markers of his Drahusekness for the past four years, and he starts gesturing wildly and pounding the podium as if to physically drive each point into our capped and overheated skulls.

“It challenges the very definition of what it means to be a person,” he says at one point, “if we continue to treat the frontal lobe like just another memory stick to be filled and drawn from at will.”

I mean, Jesus, you’d think that technology had taken physical form and stolen his prom date or something.  He talks about the corrosive effects of internet growth in the Third World, and the suffering of Language, which you know he’s typed up on his paper with a capital L, and how we’re in danger of “enslaving ourselves to a new caste of robotic overlords” if we don’t recognize where we are and tack hard in the other direction, pronto.

Behind him, Asst. Principal Holly Whitmore, Ed. D., is making faces at certain audience-member parents to suggest that this isn’t at all the speech that she vetted but what’s she supposed to do at this point, pull the poor kid off the podium?  Which he literally is, is on the podium now, as in climbing skyward, yelling without the aid of a microphone as he brings the speech towards its conclusion.

“Cast off the chains of digital repression!” he shouts.  “Rise against the false wisdoms of the technocrati!  Take action before it’s too late!”

More than a few members of the audience have at this point taken out mobile phones to record what’s happening, and you know it’s going to be up on Youtube before he gets back to his seat, which is terrible, obviously, to take advantage of the kid like that.  And all this is doubly and triply awkward because the Valedictorian’s Speech, which is next, is set to be delivered by Ramses, the computer that Lee Drahusek built towards the end of his sophomore year and which basically lapped him academically-speaking about the same time college admissions were going out.  And poor Ramses has to just perch there on his four-wheeled cart the whole time while Drahusek rants and froths in front of him.  It takes all we have to keep from jumping up on stage and dragging him away to somewhere safe and dry, where the electricity will never be shut off.

Jeff Bakkensen is a writer who makes a living fundraising and a Chicagoan in the body of a New Yorker.  His fiction has appeared in Line Zero, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Vestal Review and Anobium, and been included on short or final lists for prizes from Hunger Mountain, Fringe Magazine, Line Zero and the Bridport Literary Festival.

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