August 23, 2020, 8:30AM PST.

C-Span’s live coverage of the New Ridgemont High Opening Ceremonies

Location: The front lawn of New Ridgemont High.  John Hughes is at the podium. Behind him, seated on either side, are Bret Easton Ellis, William Friedman, San Fernando Mayor Harris Clark, and congresswoman Susan Best, 28th Congressional District. Several hundred local residents and press are in attendance.

John Hughes:  …and after ten years of conceptualizing and planning and two intense years of fundraising and politicking, all of us at the New Ridgemont High Foundation are thrilled to be able to tell the people of California – and of these greater United States – that the long wait is over. New Ridgemont High is open for business!

Enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

John Hughes: Today, our teens are about to step into a time-capsule. They will experience High School as it once was and as many of you undoubtedly remember it, in the hope of recovering something that we have lost: that sense of infinite possibility; of boundless optimism; the feeling that your whole life is in front of you and the whole world is behind you. And given what’s happening to our young people today, it isn’t a moment too soon.

So we’re here to celebrate – to raise a glass to the entering class of New Ridgemont High – and to honor the school’s creator, Dr. William Friedman, whose life’s work now stands before us, in all of its glory.

I first met Will at a film festival, at USC, in the Spring of 2000, and we immediately became friends. New Ridgemont High was barely an idea back then – Will was still ironing out some of the details of his “Social Immersion Theory” – but his dedication and enthusiasm were infectious, and it wasn’t long before he had me on board. I remember those long, late night sessions, when Will would talk about his ideas for an experimental school, and they were a powerful and joyous experience.  

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to find myself on Nightline, with Bret Easton Ellis. Our topic was the by-now-famous Priss Pruitt report on today’s high schools and on Will’s work. I’d never met Bret before – other than at a few Industry events, here and there – and our work, of course, is as different as two bodies of work can be, but by the end of the program, he was on board too. Because Bret cares as much about our teens as I do, and he saw in Friedman everything that I did. Our friendship and collaboration are a testament to Will’s vision, and I am proud and honored to introduce him. Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, I give you Bret Easton Ellis!

Loud applause. Hughes returns to his seat and Ellis takes the podium.

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Bret Easton Ellis: Thanks John. I’m not sure what to say after an introduction like that. But I can definitely agree – that meeting on Nightline was a watershed moment for me. I’ve been like a man on a mission ever since. In fact, I’ve found myself wishing that I was starting at New Ridgemont High today!

So, let me fill in the story a little bit. After John and I got together that night, we had another meeting – about a week later, I think – and John brought Will with him. We sat out on my deck, until about three in the morning, drinking and chain smoking – well, Will and I were chain smoking – and Will laid the whole thing out for me – Social Immersion Theory, his idea for New Ridgemont High, everything – it was incredible. I’ve never trusted overly earnest people, but Will’s earnestness was heartfelt and tempered by a healthy skepticism.

So that was the night that I first started feeling the Friedman-love, but it wasn’t until almost three months later, after a crazy, caper-filled weekend with him and John – which began with an X reunion concert and ended with us sitting through the night, drafting the New Ridgemont High charter – that everything got going. And no, I’m not going to tell you what happened!

Two weeks later we were meeting with Steve Jobs. A week after that, Madonna joined up. Then, Rick Linklater. After that, it was like a flood.  

We’re all here, because of Will – because of this amazing thing that he’s created – and because we want our kids to feel like their teen years were the best years of their lives. Congresswoman Best, Mayor Clark, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…William Friedman.

Wild applause from the audience. Ellis returns to his seat and Friedman takes the podium.

William Friedman: I’m itching to get inside that building and start this ball rolling, so I won’t say much. New Ridgemont High was built on a few fundamental ideas that will guide her operation and development, over the coming years:

First, Young people are our most precious resource, and their happiness and success are our top priority.

Second, The current situation, in which teens and pre-teens are essentially imprisoned for eight hours a day and routinely subjected to punitive treatment at the hands of school administrators and local law enforcement, is destructive and intolerable.

Third, The decades spanning the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s represent the apex of young people’s capacity to develop and act freely, in a broad and accommodating social-cultural space. They also represent the peak of young peoples’ influence on the broader culture, also known as “social capital.”

And finally, fourth, human behavior, especially when taken on a broad scale, is the product of innumerable and complex forces, ranging from the family, the immediate peer group, local culture and mores, mass media, popular culture, the economy, politics, and so on. Any attempt to significantly alter that behavior, especially on a broad scale, must take all of these forces into account.

I would be remiss not to thank people. John and Bret have mentioned a good number of them already.  Steve Jobs has been unbelievably supportive, providing technology, expertise, finance, and most importantly, his remarkable intellect and unique experience.  Madonna has given the project energy and a potent media presence. Rick Linklater, what can I say? After John Hughes, his films have had the greatest impact on my thinking in this area, and his private counsel has been invaluable, throughout the process. And John and Bret? They’ve been the right and left sides of my brain. New Ridgemont High was born out of the creative synergy of our three sensibilities, our perceptions of the present, our visions of the future, our combined hopes and dreams … they’re like my brothers.

I have to say something about our two luminaries here with me, on the stage. I cannot even imagine the number of people that pull on the sleeves of Mayor Clark and Congresswoman Best every minute of every day. That they were able, in the middle of the madhouse that is government, not only to formally support our cause, but to fight for it, to pay hard political cash, to call in favors, to risk making enemies, to take up the time of their administrative staff…it’s more than I ever could have hoped for. I thank the two of you, from the bottom of my heart. Ladies and gentlemen, please give our Mayor and Congresswoman your applause.

Applause from the audience. Mayor Clark and Congresswoman Best join Friedman at the podium. Congresswoman Best is holding a plaque.

Mayor Clark: Will Friedman has given San Fernando, the State of California, and the United States of America his heart, his soul, and the sweat of his brow. One can ask no more of a citizen or of a friend, Will, and you are the best of both. What you begin, here, today, will transform the lives of every Valley resident for the better, and as the elected Mayor of Ridgemont, on behalf of the city, I want to thank you for it!

A shout from the crowd. Mayor Clark grips Friedman’s hand. The two laugh and exchange words, then put their arms around one another and wave to the audience.

Congresswoman Best: Will, the Progressive Caucus has voted unanimously to award you this year’s Freedom Prize, for your unprecedented achievement, with New Ridgemont High. Congratulations!

William Friedman [Accepting the award]:  Thank you, so much. It’s an honor. Especially coming from you and from the Caucus.

Congresswoman Best: They also sent a message.  

William Friedman: And that is?

Congresswoman Best: They say get to work, Will. Get to work!

The Congresswoman puts her arm around Friedman, who raises up the award.  The crowd goes wild. Hughes and Ellis rise from their seats, clapping.

William Friedman: Let’s get to work!

August 23, 2020, 10:00am PST

Location: The opening of New Ridgemont High. Students are streaming from buses and from their cars through the front doors. The camera follows the last group of students through the doors and into a large entry hall, with a balcony, on which Friedman stands, holding a microphone.  Arranged in rows across the hall are tables piled with clothes: t-shirts, jeans, skirts, shoes, sneakers, jackets, all from the 1980’s. 

William Friedman [Into the mic]: Okay everyone, this stuff is for you, and there’s more than enough to go around. Make sure you take enough to carry you for at least a week. The idea is to wear 80’s clothes 24/7, so go to town.

An excited babble ensues, as the students begin crowding around the tables, picking out clothes.  Conversations are struck up, as they gravitate towards the fashions and styles that appeal to them.

Anna Harry [To Billy Johnson, who is admiring a turquoise linen jacket]: That’s nice!

Billy Johnson: Heh, yeah! I was just thinking…my father’s got the same jacket. Actually, he’s got four of them, across the pastel color chart.

Anna: [Extending her hand] I’m Anna, Anna Harry, from Stephens. You’ve gotta’ get the white pants, if you’re taking that jacket. It won’t look good with  jeans.

Billy: [Shaking her hand and laughing] I know…I’m just wondering if I want to walk around looking like Don Johnson. A part of me recoils.

Anna: You’ll look hot in it, though.

Billy: I will, won’t I?

Anna: Totally.

Billy: Sold. Oh, and I’m Billy Johnson. I went to Central.

Anna: Cool, my best friend Danielle goes there. She didn’t make it in the NRH lottery.

Billy: This is gonna’ be great, isn’t it?

Anna: Yeah, I’m pretty floored by the whole thing. I mean, Principal Friedman’s going all the way. It’s like virtual reality, but without the virtual part.

Billy: [Laughing again] Virtual reality, minus the virtual is just…reality.

Anna: You know what I mean.

Billy: So what are you taking?

Anna: I’m deciding whether to channel my inner-Bangles and do the whole permed hair, mini-skirts and thirty bracelets thing or go preppy. The thought of penny loafers, khakis, and Polo shirts seems oddly appealing.

Billy: What was your thing at Stephens?

Anna: I hung out with the sportos some – I was on the cheer squad – but I also liked to go to raves with the club-kids, you know? So, I could go a few ways.

Billy: I vote for Bangles. You’d be wasted in Argyll sweaters.

Anna: Hmm, you might be right. Plus, I like funky nail polish too much, and you can’t wear funky nail polish with Argyll.

Billy: Definitely not.

Anna: So what are you going out for? You play any sports? You a theater kid? What’s your thing?

Billy: Actually, my story’s a lot like yours. I swam varsity, so I’ve got jock friends, but I’m also in a band, so I hang out with the alternative crowd too.

Anna: What kind of band?

Billy: You’re gonna’ laugh, given the whole NRH thing.  It’s a retro-punk and post-punk band. I play bass and sing.

Anna: That is too fucking funny.

Billy: Yeah, so I’m gonna’ go out for swim and see about putting a band together, here. I did a little research, and it turns out that one of the big things in 80’s high schools was “Stage Night,” where the classes would compete against each other, in a music-dance-comedy sketch kinda’ show. Well, New Ridgemont High’s gonna have one, so I’m psyched for that.

Anna: I’ll definitely go out for cheerleading. Not sure what else I’ll do yet. Gotta’ check out the scene first; see what’s available, you know?

Billy: I’ve gotta’ have these classic Ray-Bans. What do you think?

Anna: Smokin’, baby. And with those clothes you’ve picked out…whew!

Billy: I gotta’ hang out with you more. You’re doing wonders for my ego.

Anna: We need more clothes!

Sean Anderson[To Fran Rosenberg]: No way! A Kiss Army t-shirt?!  Fucking vintage. I am so taking this. My uncle Jimmy’s gonna’ shit his pants.  

Fran Rosenberg: Your uncle? What about my dad?  Last week, I caught him in his underwear, playing air-guitar to Judas Priest. He’s a metal freak. Wow, they do have some grade-A collector’s shit, here. I’m all over this Van Halen T. You’ve got to be shitting me … are those actually leather pants?

Sean: They are. I can see your ass in them already.

Fran: I’m gonna’ look like Lita Ford.  

Sean: I’d say that’s a good thing.

Fran: I should tease my hair…Aqua-Net it and shit.  

Sean: People will be slipping on their own drool.

Fran: You’re gonna’ be even worse at this school than you were at our last one, aren’t you? I don’t know if I can take Sean-Plus.

Sean: We’ve got it made, here, Francie. 1980’s rules?  That means there aren’t any. No surveillance cameras.  No cops. Open campus. There won’t be shit we can’t do. Uncle Jimmy told me he and his buddies used to smoke joints in the parking lot before classes. Drink beer behind the building, during free periods. I mean, that’s fucking insane!

Fran: It is sweet, isn’t it?  

Sean: Yeah it is. For the first time in my life, I’m actually looking forward to going to school!

Fran: Omigod! they’ve got patent leather boots over there!

Chloe Gold is inspecting a white Camp Beverly Hills sweatshirt. Mitch Bennett, with an armful of polo shirts and jeans, inadvertently backs into her, dropping everything.

Mitch Bennett: Oh! Sorry!

Chloe Gold: No problem! Anyway, it’s not my stuff that’s on the floor.

Mitch [Scrambling to pick up the clothes]: I guess I’m a little bit of a klutz.

Chloe: Join the club. I fell into the bathtub today, while I was brushing my hair and leaned too far back, like this. [Arches back into a bridge.]

Mitch: [Staring at her] Yeah … that’s, uh, way back, isn’t it?

Chloe: Gymnastics. Every girl’s gotta’ do it. I quit as soon as possible.

Mitch [Extending his hand]: I’m Mitch. Mitch Bennett. I went to Clark.

Chloe [Shaking Bennett’s hand]: The private tech school? That’s, like, the best school in the state. Why’d you decide to come here?

Mitch: My parents are scientists, so they liked the idea.  I was all for it, anyway. The whole 80’s technology thing seemed really intriguing. I’m dying to take one of those Apple 2’s apart.

Chloe: Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mitch Bennett.  I’m Chloe Gold. I went to Beverly Hills High school.

Mitch: Whoa!

Chloe: I know. Richie Rich High.

Mitch: That school’s like a country club. Why are you coming here?

Chloe: You just said it yourself, my school was a goddamn country club. Let’s not talk about it. [Holds up the sweatshirt] What do you think of this?

Mitch: I like it.

Chloe: I’m dressing down. Baggy sweatshirts, leggings, Chuck Taylor’s… Maybe I’ll biggify my hair a little. But that’s it. I want people to judge me for me.

Mitch: I didn’t know there were people like you at Beverly Hills High. I’d heard they were all stuck up snobs.

Chloe: And I didn’t know there were people like you at Clark. I’d heard they were all dweebs.

Mitch: Well, I’m a dweeb, aren’t I?

Chloe: [Examines the clothes Mitch has selected] Hmm. Let’s see. Izod shirts – in appropriate pastel shades, I should add – jeans … How are you going to wear the shirts? Tucked in or not?

Mitch: Uh, not.

Chloe: Mmhmm. Penny loafers or sneakers?

Mitch: I was thinking penny loafers.

Chloe: No, not a dweeb. A little prep, a little casual – slightly geeky, extremely charming – definitely not a dweeb.

Mitch [Laughing]: You’re the weirdest rich kid I’ve ever met.

Chloe: Glad to hear it! So, what are you planning to do at New Ridgemont High?

Mitch: Well, computers for sure, but I also was thinking of going for student media. The school paper, radio station, you know.

Chloe: That’s perfect!

Mitch: It is?

Chloe: Absolutely. You see, I’m going to be Student Body President.

Mitch: Uh, okay.

Chloe: And once I am, you and I are going to run this place.

Mitch: We are?

Chloe [Taking Mitch’s arm]: Yes, Mr. Bennett, we are.  And it’s gonna’ be awesome!