“Ignore the naysayers and do what you love, but don’t quit your day job,” Kiss lead singer Gene Simmons told a group of students at Schalmont High School, according to the District’s Facebook page.
When the school’s History of Rock Music class began studying the band Kiss this spring, senior Gabe Unser stumbled across an email for Simmons’ publicist, and decided to reach out. “Why not? Getting someone like him to talk would be the opportunity of a lifetime,” Unser said.
Unser said he was shocked when he woke up the next morning to a reply from the publicist stating that Simmons was interested in speaking with the class. He passed on the good news to his teacher, Bob Renzi, who then took over communication with Simmons’ publicist.
According to Renzi, Simmons does not frequently respond to messages like Unser’s, but Simmons used to be a teacher in New York City, and he was moved to hear from a student like Unser.
“If Gabe hadn’t reached out to me, we wouldn’t have met,” Simmons told the students. “He touched my heart because I used to be a teacher.”
From there, Renzi and Simmons’ publicist made a plan for a virtual meeting between Simmons and the class on Monday, June 14, through Google Meet.
“Mr Renzi told the class a week before. Some kids’ eyes got all wide, and nobody could believe it would happen,” Unser said.
When it came time for the meeting on Monday, though, Simmons could not get the Google Meet link to work properly, and he was unable to meet the students.
“[Simmons] felt terrible because he felt like he let the kids down, and he insisted that we reschedule,” Renzi said.
Renzi and Simmons’ publicist quickly rescheduled for two days later, on Wednesday after school. A planned 30-minute virtual meeting turned into an hour and 15 minutes, Renzi said.
Simmons answered students’ questions, and spoke on a wide-range of topics, from business, to the beginnings of Kiss, to his career as a teacher. “He kept dropping life lessons,” Unser said.
Renzi too felt the gravity of the opportunity to speak with someone like Gene Simmons. “He was incredibly gracious and really kind to the kids,” Renzi said. “He had great advice.”
The student’s initiative is what stuck out to the Schalmont district leadership.
“What a testament to the power of student advocacy. I’m amazed that one of our students could reach out to a publicist and get a response like that,” said Superintendent Thomas Reardon. “I could not be more proud and impressed.”
Renzi said he and his students are still reeling with excitement from the experience of meeting Simmons. “(The students) were totally pumped. Since then, I’ve seen some of them in school and they were absolutely beside themselves, it was surreal.”
Renzi is retiring this year after teaching music at Schalmont for over 25 years. He said the conversation with Simmons felt like a great cap on his years of teaching the History of Rock Music class.
“What a fantastic way for (Renzi) to culminate his teaching career,” Reardon added.
As Unser looks ahead to study music industry at SUNY Oneonta next year, he said meeting with Simmons was the best ending to the History of Rock Music for both himself and Renzi. “It was definitely the perfect cap on high school,” Unser said.