April 29, 2011
Division Avenue High School principal James Reilly's letter in our first yearbook messed up the pioneer metaphor
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BY DEWAIN LANFEAR
I was looking through our Division Avenue High School's class of 1960 yearbook the other day and got as far as Mr. Reilly's letter. There was something about the letter that troubled me. He messes up the pioneer metaphor by first calling us pioneers and then calling the faculty pioneers and mixing their legacy with ours.
As much as I hold our teachers in high regard, they were for the most part not rookies, and Levittown was not a new place in 1960, and they didn't go on from there as we did to start new lives. So, I'm not a fan of the letter written by our principal. That's not to say that I don't feel we owe a great debt to the faculty, but we were the pioneers.
It is a rare circumstance to be "seniors" for four years. We set our own styles, helped along by American Bandstand, and followed a course that we set. We didn't "pay our dues" as freshman or any other underclass. We grew into a varsity sports program, we planned the proms, the newspaper, the yearbook, etc. the way we, with the help and advice of faculty advisers, wanted to do these things. There weren't any traditions until we did something.
I believe that this very unusual situation and opportunity shaped most of us in subtle but lasting ways throughout our lives. I think that a lot of us on many occasions in life chose our own paths rather than following established patterns, and that, to quote my most favorite poem, "has made all the difference". It's not a matter of being headstrong or obstinate, it's just a way of looking at the world - seeing not just the wellworn paths, but seeing the chance to make a new path. I think of Bobby Kennedy's quote about "seeing things that never were and saying why not".
Personally, I did so many things my way in college, the Army, teaching and coaching that I never even thought about it after a while. The results weren't always good and the creativity wasn't always appreciated, but I was who I was, and I attribute it to the unique position the class of 1960 occupied in the history of DAHS.
The incredibly creative people that our class produced, Woodstock, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Tony Awards, Oscars, Emmys, etc make it seem obvious to me that something extraordinary happened with our class. These awards are just the tip of the iceberg as anyone who's been following this blog will know. Our class includes many remarkable people who haven't been recognized with these high profile awards, but who nevertheless were outstanding in their field.
Being in the pioneer class of 1960 was a wonderful gift that many of us have used well.
Dewain Lanfear, a frequent contributor to this blog, was the editor of Division Avenue High School's first yearbook. Now retired, he taught English at Division for 18 years and a total of 32 in Levittown.