I’ve never sounded like more of an idiot. I was the youngest in my class and unfortunately the most naive and confident – there’s no more toxic a combination than youth and bravado. All the other students were college juniors, most of whom came from prestigious universities. I was fresh off graduating from Delaware Hayes Highschool in Delaware Ohio, one of the worst performing schools in the state. My father had accepted a director position at an abroad program in Florence Italy and I was brought along for the ride. I brought with me an unearned intellectual confidence that was begging to be euthanized. I had no idea it would be at the hands of my father’s political theory class.
I grew up hearing from all my babysitters who were my father’s students what a great, engaging, and entertaining professor he was. I was excited and nervous to experience this first hand. I sat in the middle of the classroom so as to appear engaged but not too eager. To my right was Yale; to my left, University Pennsylvania. I was the cold cuts in an Ivy League sandwich. My father walked in and his confidence immediately commanded the respect of everyone in the room. He welcomed us and asked a nearly rhetorical question that was meant to set up the entire semester of lectures:
“What can a civilization do to ensure it’s remembered by posterity?”
The room was quiet for a moment as he stared at us; everyone waiting for someone else to answer. Without raising my hand, I blurted out, “Procreate!” He looked over at me blankly, pointed, and quickly said, “no.” A wave of panic rushed through me; my ears became hot to the touch, and my mouth dried up as the student next to me calmly answered “They keep records.” My father resonded with a resouding “YES!” and began a lecture on Cicero.
I’m only guessing it was about Cicero, because I didn’t hear one word of that lecture. I was in a completely different world where the only sound was my own brain telling me that I had just argued that the reason we know about Socrates is “because people fucked and then babies came out!” This was a college political theory, not a high school health class. The secondary panic began to set in as I feared people could sense my embarrassment. They were listening nodding, smiling and taking notes as I sat in the middle of them, my heart pounding, and nervous dissociative eyes darting around the room. I wanted to leave and never come back. I wanted to go back to high school and my old bed, my drums and my girlfriend. But I was in Europe and being forced to grow up.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to find the non ivy league students who liked to smoke hash drink Peroni. sleep on the beach and make American style mistakes. I recovered from the embarrassment quickly, even though I never opened my mouth again in that class. I wrote a decent paper at the end and my Dad, of course, gave me an A. It was one of the last ones I ever got.