Four Years as a High School senior

Greg Wroblewski's reflections on four years as a high school senior.

When I tell people that senior year of high school was four of the happiest years of my life, they think I am kidding. Oh, they have no trouble believing that it took me four years to get through physics and calculus, but they just assume that there's a punch line. There isn't. The claim is literally true, at least in a certain sense. I wasn't in 12th grade for four years, but I was in a situation where my class was always the uppermost class in our school. It came to pass that I was ready to enter secondary school exactly when construction was completed on Bishop Kearney High School, a new facility built where once I had played Little League baseball, on undeveloped land where pungent, delicious scallions grew wild in the outfields.

And it came to pass that the new school decided to begin its existence with a freshman class which would eventually become its first graduates. The class of 1966. Seniors forever. The Pioneer Class. Our administrators were Brother Clark and Sister Lewis, so they called us The Lewis and Clark Expedition, a fitting name for pioneers. Did this unusual situation confer upon us some special grace or some defining characteristics? Is it possible that we became arrogant asses because we never went through the usual process of  humiliation imposed by upperclassmen upon their inferiors? I'll leave that hypothesis for psychologists to deal with, but I think their conclusion would probably be a resounding "no," despite the supporting evidence offered by my own existence. I look back on high school as four great years. I can't remember any bullying. I can't even remember any people that I couldn't get along with. We had the usual assortment of nerds, jocks, brains, tough guys, and beatniks, but I really can't remember ever trying to avoid anyone in the hall. The popular girls were never snotty to me, at least not that I can recall. I can't even remember any harsh words or strong arguments at the school, unless they involved the faculty. I pretty much liked everyone in the class. When I have a chance to communicate to any of them today, it remains a pleasant experience. We had our cliques and I was excluded from many of them, but I still enjoyed the company of those people when I ran into them in class or at school functions. I don't know if our common unique experience shaped us in any special way, but do I think I'm damned lucky. Unlike most people I talk to, I remember high school fondly, even though I was not one of the popular kids. Yet had I been born a year later, I would not have enjoyed this permanent senior-most class status, and had I been born a year earlier, I could never have gone to the school at all.

Enough of that. This site is set up to accumulate Pioneer Class memorabilia. I started it alone, in the hope that others would send in their comments or their own memorabilia, for if it had remained solely my efforts, it would have been a very small site indeed.

The online reference book called Wikipedia now has pages dedicated to individual high schools. Here is their informative entry for "our" Bishop Kearney. I'm using those quote marks because, surprisingly, there is another Bishop Kearney High School. It's in Brooklyn. That one is a girls' school, and is named after a different Bishop Kearney, a certain Raymond A. Kearney, the youngest-ever auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Jim Macpherson's additional reflections:

The website feels a bit like coming home after a lifetime of experiences. We not only shared four extrodinary years together, but most of us also had a shared experience of growing up in Rochester. Smugtown USA! Everything from Seabreeze and Don & Bob’s to the constant opening and closing of Charlotte beach (whose “mispronunciation” gave fits to Mark Twain). We remember Sibley’s walk through wonderland at Christmas (and their fosted fugies and going with Grandma for lunch in the tre chic Tower Restaurant), the opening (and closing) of Mid-Town Mall with the silly/fascinating clock, and Edward’s having shockingly closed only to open for a year or so at Oktoberfest time.

The winding road (with many great alcoves for necking and petting) from BKHS through Durand Eastman Park (and its wonderful wild animal zoo closed too soon) to the beach. The frequent opening and closing of the beach at Durand Eastman Park. Sailing on Irondequoit Bay (and docking at Glen Edith for lunch).

We remember the shock of the strangely cold PA announcement telling us from the office that JFK was shot and shortly after, dead. We left early rushing home to make sense of it, only to be baffled by the shooting of his assassin.

Golden Point hamburgers at 10¢ each—what a treat! (presuming you could find the quarter-sized meat patty). The winning football seasons. The rumors when one of our early coaches (“if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t hurt”) and one of our early chaplains suddenly disappeared. The Great Blackout of 1965 (Martha Mary Proud drove me home through the bizarre darkness—don’t know if my heart was pounding because of that spectacle or that I was sitting next to the lovely Miss Proud. The 1964 race riots and National Guard troops at my street corner.

The unbelievable blizzard of January 1966 (and walking by unbelievable walls of snow to visit GF Debbie on Thomas Avenue. Affable bachelor Rochester Mayor Steve May, who lived on Prince Street in what was the odd remains of a mansion library that burned down years before.

Massive polio vaccinations in 1956—and some friends who weren’t so lucky. (I remember standing in line for hours at the downtown Armory amid thousands of screaming kids and worried but hopeful parents. The reused needles were dull and hurt like bloody hell.)

We have also shared the same history for over 60 years, and vividly remember the fights over Medicare (“socialist medicine”), the civil rights legislation, and the failed Equal Rights Amendment. There was MLK, Chappaquiddick and RFK barnstorming through Rochester again and again in his first Senate election. Both Richard Nixon and JFK could be seen coming out of the Manger Hotel (with it’s elegant Purple Tree Lounge) during the 1960 election. The Rascals (nee Young Rascals) emerging from my neighbor, Gene Cornish. So much has changed and so much is the same.

Our external life experiences through the60s, 70s, 80s and 90s are comfortingly parallel. When they talk of Woodstock, few of us were there, but we lived it nevertheless. Our generation was shocked by the deaths of Janice, Jimi and later John Lennon. On 9/11, we remembered when the amazing towers were built and watched their collapse as if in a dream; our own foundations seemed to be crumbling.

I remember listening to the emergence of Michael Jackson as a powerful singer among his brothers with Joe Ruffino at his father’s pizza shop on Portland Avenue, only to many years later being shocked by his death from AIDS. That epidemic took many friends I remember from my days living on Park Avenue in the late 1970s (and watching the classics from the 30s and 40s on the big screen at the nearby Dryden). Charlie’s Frog Pond is still there!

Ted Kennedy’s passing seems very personal and, whatever your politics, leaves a bit of a hole.

Many of us also wonder: Did Sister Alena wind up leaving the convent? Did Brothers Barwin and Tracey really spontaneously combust? What’s on our “personal record” that Mrs. Sullivan guarded so closely? Did Brothers Leavy and Heathwood have the good lives we hoped they would? Did Sister Marcian and Mr. Zicari really know how much we appreciated them? (Did I really read Animal Farm in 19 minutes?) Did Nurse Sullivan recognize the anxiety she soothed—our own personal Xanax when the dog ate our homework?

And my mother dying at Kirkhaven on Alexander Street (next to the ghostly Genesee Hospital with memories of the nearby Rio Bamba) in 04 on a beautiful crisp and sunny fall day that said to me: Rochester!, Macintosh apples and “trick or treat”. She was ready to go; I was not ready to lose her.

I suspect as we move through our seventh and then eighth decades, what Greg (the baby of our group) has started may have increasing meaning for us. So thank you for being there.

Hope to see you all in the not too distant future.

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