Ode on Ageless Virtues Learned and Lived

By James W. Dolan, Special to the Reporter

About a dozen members of the BC High class of 1956 gathered recently for lunch at Amrheins. Attendance at the annual event has diminished as class members have died or become disabled. The inevitable passage from youth to old age has taken its toll on the boys who, fresh faced and energetic in 1952, exited the former MBTA Northampton Station and walked to the old BC High on Harrison Avenue in the South End. It was there that we spent our first two years before moving to the new campus on Morrissey Boulevard.

It was a grand group of fellows, eager yet apprehensive, particularly after being told at orientation that many of us would fall by the wayside and never make it to graduation. The all- male environment had its advantages: Without girls there were fewer distractions, so we were funnier, less inhibited, and not as self-conscious as we otherwise might have been.

We were all required to wear ties and sport jackets. I swear some of my classmates wore the same jacket and tie for all four years. Those in authority didn’t care how you looked as long as you complied with the dress code. I was in the same class with my cousin Craig, who wore a gray jacket with a ballpoint drawing of a flower in his lapel for the last two years.

The class quickly sorted itself out into the smart, not so smart, and by-the-skin-of-our-teeth sections. As expected, Craig and I were quickly identified as bottom feeders and gained early admittance to the latter group. We spent so much time in detention, aka “jug,” that our parents thought the school day ended at 4 p.m. We continue to honorably represent that group at reunions.

Only the Jesuits could have thought up some of the diabolical punitive assignments we received in “jug,” what the kids now say stands for “Justice under God.” Try writing a 500-word composition, every other word in pencil. Or, for the hard core, every other letter in different colored ink. The assignments included such thought provoking topics as “On the Inside of a Ping Pong Ball” or “How to Catch a Fly in a Bottle.” Some of us would have preferred solitary confinement.

The smart kids took Advanced Everything. Those of us on the other end of the spectrum took Introduction to Everything. Occasionally, one of us would find his inner scholar and move up to Intermediate Something. But, for the most part, we managed to hold our own, clinging to mediocrity like shipwrecked sailors clutching driftwood. How we managed to make it to graduation was our first, and hopefully not our last, salvation experience.

We are now grandfathers in our late 70s, out of BC High 62 years and looking back on the lives that our high school experience enriched. Some of us have been more fortunate than others for reasons often impossible to explain. We all share a deep appreciation of the values learned and the friendships made at BC High. The significance of the words “a man for others” is as important now as it has ever been.

The BC High of today is different from the one we attended. It’s more diverse and more academically demanding, but the values remain the same. We old grads are nearing the end of the line. We gladly pass the torch to recent grads, knowing they will face challenges requiring character and love, the powerful virtues implicit in the school motto. With this as a goal and a strong moral foundation, developed at least in part on campus, they, too, will one day join the ranks of proud alumni, present and, eventually, past.

BC High Nocturnal

It’s late, school is not in session;
The classrooms and halls are silent.
Listen carefully and in the darkness
You can hear the sounds of classes past.

The air stirs as dim shadows suddenly appear.
Muffled sounds of laughter and boyhood banter
Filter down the hall as a door somewhere closes,
Unseen, the school remains in session.

It’s then, when students past return,
To find their youth and bless its joy.
The brotherhood survives in memory and fact
As they make their way from class to class.

Oh yes! We too once walked these halls;
Lived, laughed and shared our youthful dreams.
The lessons taught are the ones you carry
The values learned have served us well.

For you one day will join us here
When winter strips away the years,
And all that’s left to take above
Is how you lived and whom you loved.