I was standing near the front of the recital hall feeling overheated and claustrophobic as I prepared to step onto the stage. As an Admission Office employee, I had been asked to give the university’s introduction presentation to a group of visiting high school music students. I had given this presentation what felt like one thousand times before, so I wasn’t concerned about it before entering the hall. That quickly changed as I mingled with some of the other presenters for the evening and realized how ill-prepared I was to speak to this particular group of music-focused (antisocial) high school music students.
I was tipped off to this fact when speaking to a woman who would be performing a song before I spoke. She was a university student studying music and had a personality as warm and inviting as Marie Antoinette’s executioner. As we talked, she radiated a palpable disgust that a non-music major would dare to subject the visiting “treasures” to anything less than a perfectly pitched performance.
I briefly wondered if her over the top, Hitler Youth persona was a joke, but I began to realize, as I stared at her band members’ emotionally battered faces, that this was how she acted all the time. This unnerved me and left me feeling like she had just punched me with her “you’ve been judged” stamp. So I stood off to the side and did my best to stay out of the way of her Midwest university version of Mean Girls before I took the stage.
Before I knew it, my time had come, so I stepped onto the stage with the grace and poise of Vanna White during a special taping of Wheel of Fortune. Once I arrived at center stage, I looked out at the bored, sweaty faces of the high school students. To say that they didn’t look thrilled to be there would be like saying that Lindsay Lohan hasn’t made many Oscar-worthy movies lately. Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure why they were there for the evening, and I began to think that they shared the same feeling.
Not wanting to waste any of the precious time that I had been given, I started into the presentation and did my best to ignore the fact that it felt like I was giving a “10 Ways to Not Get Killed in a Prison Fight” lecture to a group of surly inmates at a state penitentiary.
Surprisingly, the rhythm of the talk went well, and I began feeling connected to the audience. Because of this, I felt brazenly confident and decided to tell an extended joke that I had never tried before. This is when everything hit the fan (figuratively of course, since the unbearably hot room had no fan).
During most of my presentations, I tell a joke about an experience during my freshman year of college where I decided to take part in a bowling league. After I finish telling the anecdote, I trail off by saying, “Anyway, I graduated single…” This usually makes the audience laugh because they picture my chubby, socially awkward freshman self doing something as uncool as a bowling league. Based on past positive receptions to this story, I told it to the current group. Once the joke was finished, the students chuckled, and I pushed ahead with the never-before-told part two.
I talked about how the last time I had presented to high school students, I had received a follow-up Facebook message from one of the audience members. She said how she noticed that I had made “multiple sad jokes about being alone” and how I would be a perfect match for her “single older sister.” Her message was horrifying and made me feel as if I had just been solicited as a mail order bride via Craigslist. The music students in the audience saw the humor in the awkward story and were in the middle of laughing when I said the following fateful words:
“So, if any of you are single, hit me up on Facebook.”
Horrified, I realized what I had done the second the words left my mouth. My twenty-two-year-old self had just suggested that a group of high school students reach out to me if they were interested in dating.
I immediately turned beet red and began stuttering about how I hadn’t meant that for the students in the audience; rather, I wanted them to have their older siblings reach out to me. It was no use. The room was reverberating with laughter at my gaffe, and there was no coming back from my statement. So I did my best to hurriedly finish the presentation and hand the evening back to the “little general” (which is what I had begun to refer to the band leader in my mind).
I walked off the stage and up the aisle past the high school students with my head down, doing my best not to make eye contact with any of them. Once I had made it out of the recital hall, I finally allowed myself to breathe while thinking that if I did end up being fired, at least I had given the visiting students a presentation that they would never forget.