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50 Years On: Remembering the Class of 1966 at St. Bernard's High School

Great if you have a few minutes to read the following, but the images collected here might be a more interesting use of your time. (Click the arrow to the right on that page to view all the photos.)

For the next few minutes, I’d like to take you back to a Sunday evening in June of 1966. Hurricane Alma was pounding the coast a bit further south. But The Day paper, on sale then for seven cents a copy, had forecast warm and sunny weather for our graduation day.

Page One was full of news of Vietnam and Civil Rights, two topics that figured prominently in at least a couple of the speeches we heard that night. But I’d like to recall a couple of other areas touched on by our valedictorian, Barbara Mish, who couldn’t be here tonight, and Jim Neilan, who IS here, along with his wife, Irene.

In retrospect, it’s pretty amazing that Barb foretold exactly what would be going on here tonight. She began and ended her talk with an excerpt from the book of Ecclesiastes, noting that there would be a time to mourn but also ... “a time to dance.”

Jim traced our four years together and made a bold claim: “As seniors,” he declared, “(we) took over leadership of the school.”

That probably came as a surprise to Father Benedict, though probably not so much to Sister Lucille. I like where Jim was headed with the idea. And I especially like the line in Jim’s speech that we never got to hear that night. Turns out that it was censored by Mr. O’Neil and, until tonight, was relegated to the trash heap of history. In the second paragraph of the first draft of his remarks, Jim recognized perhaps the most distinctive accomplishment of the class of ‘66: Emptying St. Edmunds Hall of a lot of really unnecessary desks and chairs!  

I tracked down Barb and Jim partly because I’ve been trying to figure out why so many of us would interrupt our busy lives of afternoon naps and early cocktails to remember a time in our lives so long since past.

If you were in my shoes, whose door would you knock on first with a question like that? Of course! Norm Sorensen!

Norm told me he’d be going to the reunion because he wanted all of us to know that, well, he still has hair!

Norm also pointed out how difficult it is to find real answers to questions like this without getting too schmaltzy.

Sharon Snyder helped me with that. When I noticed that she’d be traveling across the whole country to be here, I sent her an email.

“I am going to the reunion because I am very interested in how everyone is doing,” Sharon told me. “This is especially true since reconnecting on FaceBook.”

As reporters sometimes do, I pushed her for more. Sharon came through. “When I think about why I am going to this reunion the words that come to mind are family and community,” she said in a follow-up note. “I don't remember if I felt that way in high school.”

I checked in with a few more of you, and some common themes emerged:  curiosity, the desire to connect and, maybe most importantly, gratitude.

Gratitude not only for the four years we spent together 50 years ago, but for the time we’re spending with one another this weekend. Several said one reason they’d be here tonight is to acknowledge the hard work of Betty and her team. Congratulations and thanks for pulling off the most impressive round-up since Gary Locarno, Mike Leahy, Danny Quinn and Jimmy Murphy were herded into the Marian Hall auditorium by Sister Lucille for a hootenanny Mass.

Going through this remarkable little book that Jimmy put together, I found myself moved by several things:

Those in the room who’ve found the strength to see things through for the long haul. It was 50 years ago yesterday that I started wearing a collar like Russ Kennedy’s. Mine lasted six months. Russ has been wearing his for going-on 600 months.  

I’m also thinking of couples who 50 years ago showed up at the senior prom together. And stayed that way: Richie and Joyce, Bob and Ronnie, Val and Al.  

I want to mention another sort of courage that can get overlooked at events like this. I’m talking about the courage to change situations that stop working -- jobs that become dead ends, marriages that die, habits (and, for that matter, collars) that no longer fit.  Sometimes remaining or becoming who we really are can demand some big changes.    

Lucille, you and the Jack Naughton we knew as Brother Christopher certainly qualify for that honor. So does Sister Lucienne, whose inspired direction of the Shield helped me find work for the next 50 years. As some of you know, Lucienne became Lorraine Waido, married to the guy who preceded me as editor of the Shield.

Let’s remember those who have died, especially Lorraine and Jack and the 22 classmates who stepped off the carousel a bit sooner than the rest of us.

The last word tonight goes to Trudy Gaffney, who, like Sharon Snyder, has been thinking about community and family.  

“The main reason I‘m attending the reunion,” Trudy told me in an email last week, “is that so many classmates reached out to me when my mother died.”

Trudy also recalled spotting three old friends on the top step of St. Mary’s at the funeral for her Dad, who passed away at the age of 95 just two months ago.

“I wanted to jump out of the limo and run to hug them,” Trudy told me. “I opted for dignified behavior, although why I should start that now, I didn’t know. The picture (of my friends on the steps) stayed in my mind, haunting." 

Trudy went on: “We’re here tonight to reconnect with those who knew us when we were young. It’s terrifying, given the snags and snares ­and embarrassments ­of growing up. But the thoughts of youth, Mr. Longfellow says, are ‘long, long thoughts.’ What could be more important on this late summer weekend of 2016 than seeing where those thoughts have brought each of us?”

Thanks very much, everyone. No more mourning. The band is back. It’s time to dance.

See you back here -- or somewhere -- in 2066!

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