Graduation is a time when big changes are afoot. Tonight is the 40th anniversary of my graduation from Sonoma Valley High School. And believe me, in 40 years a lot of things have changed.
When I went to Sonoma High way back in the ‘70s our country had little confidence in an unpopular and ineffectual President. The San Francisco 49ers had suffered through a number of bad seasons, but seemed like they were on the verge of turning things around. Locals complained that Sonoma was growing too quickly and had lost all its small town charm. And it’s hard to believe now, but in those days high school students called our beautiful town “Slow-noma” and complained that there was nothing to do here.
It is true that I was co-valedictorian of the class of 1978. But to be fair it was much easier to do well in school in those days. Take history class for example. Back then it was much, much easier to get an “A” in history because there was so much less of it to learn. In the 1970s, AP classes had a different name. They were called “college.” My wife Jane, who teaches English and drama now at Sonoma High, did not teach at the high school 40 years ago. In fact, she insists that she had not even been born then. When I went to Sonoma High, Chet Sharek was not the name of a plaza with a statue of a Dragon in the middle of it. He was our vice principal. Mike Delong was not the name of the school library. He was the beloved chairman of the English Department. And Dean Knight was not a science teacher. Well, actually he was. Mr. Knight was actually my science teacher for two years at Sonoma High. That’s true.
I’ve been asked to share some words of wisdom I’ve learned over the past 40 years, but as I thought about it I realized I don’t have any words of wisdom. I mean, come on. For goodness sake, I’m in show business – remember? What useful advice could I possibly offer other than to suggest you get a reality show and then run for president? Fortunately, though, I was raised by two wonderful parents – Don and Mary Martin – and taught by countless hardworking teachers here in the Valley who imparted some valuable lessons that have proven useful over the years. I remember sitting where you are on the night of my graduation and being afraid of what was ahead, afraid of the uncertainty of the outside world, wondering what I was going to do with my life. So I decided like so many students before me to take the safe route after high school. I went to Cal Berkeley and studied political science and dramatic arts. Then, as most of you will probably do, I took a term off and went to Professional Baseball Umpire School and spent a season as a professional minor league baseball umpire. After graduating from Cal, I got a master of fine arts from UC San Diego. And after living in New York City for a year, I made the safe and predictable choice of running away to Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Clown College and then toured the country for two years as a clown and assistant ringmaster. In 1989, I left the circus and joined the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Reed Martin is a writer and performer with the renowned Reduced Shakespeare Company – a three-man comedy troupe that takes long, boring topics and turns them into short, sharp comedies. He earned a BA from UC Berkeley, an MFA in Acting from UC San Diego, and is a graduate of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College. He has performed twice at the White House, as well as in Madison Square Garden, London’s West End, Off-Broadway in New York, and in forty-six states and eleven countries. Reed has written for National Public Radio, the BBC, TBS, the Washington Post, and Vogue Magazine. He has been seen on all the major television networks and has published nine scripts and three humorous non-fiction books. Raised in Sonoma Valley, Reed attended El Verano, Prestwood, and Altimira schools before graduating as co-valedictorian of the Sonoma Valley High Class of 1978. This was his speech to the class of 2018 at graduation on June 4.