Bueller? Bueller? Ben Stein offers direction to college students: Honor your parents, country

He’s recognized everywhere for his catch-phrases, “Bueller? Bueller?” and, “For dry, red eyes, now there’s Clear Eyes.”

But on Monday evening Ben Stein was not at the U to rattle off catch-phrases-though he did so after being prompted by an audience member. Instead, the former Nixon speechwriter offered college students two sets of guidelines: how to ruin their lives and how to succeed in life.

“People are just people from the most ordinary people in the world to the most exalted,” Stein said. “I sat in on the highest council at the Bush campaign. They’re really just little kids. I had friends on the Kerry campaign who said the same thing about them. All of them were basically like fraternity boys trying to plan a party. Some of them wear jackets and ties and some of them say, ‘Welcome to Wal-Mart,’ but they’re all just people.”

Perhaps Stein’s most poignant recommendation was to make life count by giving it meaning-and to give life meaning by living it for others.

Though he was a lawyer, economist, actor, writer and comedian, Stein said he eventually decided to be what nobody else could be: a really great son to his father and mother.

As his parents began aging, Stein said he began to watch TV with them and listen to stories.

“I’d listen to every story and hear everything they said. I just hung around,” Stein said. “My mother’s face would light up, she’d walk me down the hall as if she were trying to imprint me on her memory forever.”

His mother died of heart failure on April 21, 1997, before Stein had the opportunity to say goodbye.

“I realized I screwed up so many things, made so many mistakes, but I’d done this one thing right. I listened to my mother,” Stein said.

Then he started consoling his father by taking him for walks and keeping him company in the wake of his long-time companion’s death.

On his birthday in 1998, Stein received what he said is still his most prized possession-a fax from his father reading, “To my support, my confident, my best friend, my son. Happy birthday, love pop.”

A year later, his father died-with his son and daughter at his side.

“He gave me a final gift,” Stein said. “He let me take care of him. That let me know I can take care of myself and my family.”

In addition to cherishing time with family, Stein said students should work hard, maintain integrity, live with gratitude, take chances, not aim at perfection, not argue with people they can’t see or touch and be optimistic.

Stein also praised America and criticized “stars” who barrage the nation with criticism, adding that real stars are not living in Hollywood, but Fallujah.

“A real star is not a star and a role model and exemplar because they are paid $20 million to stand in front of a camera and read lines…a real star is the guy who puts on the battle vest, fatigues and body armor. They’re brave, they work for no money at all, their families are back home terrified. We live in luxury and comfort, and we should be damn grateful for them.”

Stein said traveling around the country and speaking is currently his favorite job because he loves to see how great the average American is.

He told The Chronicle the U.S. needs to build up the number of troops in Iraq to suppress the insurgency and said now is not the time to leave because it would lead to greater hostility. Stein compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler and said the most dangerous man in the most dangerous part of the world is no longer in power thanks to the United States.

Stein predicted that the U.S. Military would withdraw within a few years and a dictator would take over to repress the insurgency in ways the United States would not.

U professor Tim Chambless said Stein’s speech was wide-ranging and eclectic and ranged from humorous to serious.

“I especially appreciate what he said about his father. I was touched by his perspective and the companionship he provided,” Chambless said. “He is an incredibly substantive man with penetrating insights.”

Danielle Fowles, executive director of the Utah Federation of College Republicans and political science student, said Stein was a great intellectual speaker with strong beliefs, but was also fair-minded and reasonable.

Stein’s humor showed through multiple times in his speech, but was particularly potent from the outset when he broke the ice with several jokes and reminded the crowd that he was not on campus for College Republicans, CBS News or FOX News, and instead borrowed a line from Snoop Dogg claiming that he was “representin’ for the gangstas all across the world.”

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