Reflecting on My 50th High School Reunion and What I’ve Learned About Life and Life in Education
A Poetic Sequel to “American Pie”
“We interrupt this Program for a special announcement.”
Five years ago, I attended my 45th high school reunion and reflected in my Blog about how the interpersonal and student-focused dynamics of high schools in the early 1970s were similar and different from the high schools I worked in—at that time—in 2017.
Today, I attended my 50th high school reunion, and it is striking what has happened in our country and across the world over the past five years.
And while I will detail some of that history in a poem below, let’s recognize that every generation feels that it is unique, and that it contributed something essential to American history and our social fabric.
Simultaneously, most generations often look at “the younger generation” and shake their collective heads thinking,
“They just don’t get it; if only they knew.”
“They’ll never be able to lead; they’ll ruin our country and way of life.”
“It was never like this when we were growing up and in charge.”
Today’s message for educators is that—in the context of school improvement (as opposed to “school reform,” “school transformation,” or “school reinvention”)— it is important to understand educational history and past accomplishments so we can identify what worked and why, what nearly worked and why, and what did not work and why.
We also need to understand today’s students, staff, schools, and social contexts so we can (a) use or improve what has worked in the past; (b) modify and adapt previous successes—establishing new successes; and (c) create new systems and strategies to focus on the novel demands that, today, need to be addressed.
Said a different way: Let’s not over-reform, over-transform, or needlessly invent unnecessary “innovations”—throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Instead, let’s take an objective, planful, and strategic look at where we are, what we need, what we already possess, and where and how we need to go.
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But more broadly, today’s theme is about generational reflection, learning from experience, and learning from others.
And all of this is accomplished symbolically and/or metaphorically in the poem below.
I wrote this poem this past week, and it was delivered today (October 1, 2022) at my 50th high school reunion. Our reunion was celebrated by over 100 graduates of the 1972 Class from Framingham South High School in Massachusetts.
Perhaps (for once), I am not going to analyze or interpret the essence of this poem below. It will stand on its own, and you—the Reader—will need to inhale it, reflect on its meanings, consider its implications, and decide how you want to use it.
At the same time, with no disrespect intended, some readers may not fully understand some of the historical allusions embedded in the lines. Hence, I hope the poem generates multiple teachable moments.
At the same time, there are a few important contexts that many—who did not grow up in the late 1960s or early 1970s—will not understand without an advanced explanation.
One of the most popular songs during our senior year in high school was American Pie by Don McLean. This single became the #1 song in America on January 15, 1972. It stayed at #1 for four weeks, and it was also a #1 hit in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (#2 in Great Britain).
American Pie was voted the most popular song by our Senior class, its lyrics were featured in our Yearbook, and it was the foundation to the poem below.
According to Wikipedia:
The repeated phrase (in American Pie) "the day the music died" refers to a plane crash in 1959 that killed early rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, ending the era of early rock and roll; this became the popular nickname for that crash. The theme of the song goes beyond mourning McLean's childhood music heroes, reflecting the deep cultural changes and profound disillusion and loss of innocence of his generation– the early rock and roll generation – that took place between the 1959 plane crash and either late 1969 or late 1970. The meaning of the other lyrics, which cryptically allude to many of the jarring events and social changes experienced during that period, have been debated for decades.
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Hogan’s Heroes was a popular TV comedy that ran from September 17, 1965 to April 4, 1971. Believe it or not, it was set in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp during World War II where the “prisoners”—led by Colonel Robert E. Hogan and his international crew of crazies—had free reign, hilariously frustrating and poking political fun at the camp’s unaware Nazi commander (Colonel Klink) and its bumbling lead guard (Sargent Schultz).
Similar to M*A*S*H’s take on the Korean War, Hogan’s Heroes used plot and comedy to make many political statements. In fact, the actors who played the four major German roles in the Series were Jewish, they had all fled the Nazi’s during World War II, and some in the cast were imprisoned in Concentration Camps during the War. Werner Klemperer, who played Colonel Klink and was the real-life son of conductor Otto Klemperer, fled Hitler’s Germany with his family in 1933. During the show’s production, he insisted that Hogan would always win against his Nazi captors—otherwise, he would not play the part of Klink.
The Hogan’s Heroes theme song was the most popular song that our high school marching band played. In fact, we played it at every football game as we entered the stadium, and it was often requested throughout the game by fans.
When we graduated on that same football field in June 1972, the band played the song as the recessional, and our class danced its way down the field and off to our futures.
Playing this song at our Reunion was a “no brainer,” and you can see how it is used symbolically in the poem.
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Given these two contexts:
“Here’s the rest of the story” (Paul Harvey).
Framingham South High’s Class of 1972 Reunion. . . Pie
A long, long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile And I knew if we stood our ground That we could move the world around And maybe make a difference for awhile.
But Viet Nam—it made us shiver And racial equity was not delivered Drugs and sex and rock ‘n roll But bells for Martin and Bobby—we heard them toll.
I can’t remember if I cried When I realized classmates really die But something touched us deep inside The day Hogan’s Heroes last played.
So why, why, Framingham South High Grabbed my knowledge—went to college But I didn’t know why. And then some others—went their own different ways Growth is a journey—Based on happiness each day.
Did you write the book of love? Was your high school crush chosen from above? Or did you have the nerve to reveal. . . That she was the one that you adored, Or that he could make your feelings soar In that adolescent way. . .
And yet some sweethearts are still together And others found happiness—and they’ve weathered The children, confirmations, and life events That tested resolve, and left us spent But we’ve love them through it. . . unrelenting.
We once were young and unafraid And now we see the paths we’ve laid Had some big hits and some regrets. . . And yet we’re here because we can’t forget The day Hogan’s Heroes last played.
So fly high, Framingham South High Grabbed my knowledge—went to college But I didn’t know why. And then some others—went their own unique ways Success is a journey—Based on happiness each day.
And so we were all in one place A generation watching “Lost in Space” But then the real thing happened when. . .
The LEM, it landed on the moon And technology began to swoon: Computers, cable, e-mails, Twitter AI, Smartphones, the Dark Web sitters Google, Tic Toc, and all the rest But is this progress? Or just a test?
Of all the values I think we had From our families—from our moms and dads Where did they all go?
Today, it seems that everything’s divided And rights and wrongs have so collided Truth has become a commodity That’s changed by changing channels on your TV.
Women’s rights and salaries The insurrection—and the inquiries Black Lives Matters, assault gun scenes Is everyone living at the extremes?
The pandemic shut the whole world down We donned our masks, Others donned their gowns. A miracle! These great vaccines, But politics reduced them to “injectable chlorines.”
It’s easy to say that we know best While belittling the opposition’s zest The younger generations, they just don’t know And yet we sometimes forget the glow The day Hogan’s Heroes last played.
So sigh, sigh, Framingham South High Grabbed my knowledge—went to college But I didn’t know why. And then some others—went their own distinct ways Wisdom is a journey—Based on happiness each day.
Now for fifty years we've been on our own Some left town, some still call here home But no one has forgotten when. . .
We shared the stage, the labs, the fields We cheered our teams and sailed our dreams
But not to romanticize or be naïve:
We had our cliques, we made mistakes We went too far in heated debates Some did drop-out or abdicate And others waited until it was much too late
But somehow we tried to make it work.
And I, for one, forgive our faults And to our Class, we should exalt That we did succeed and should all be proud Of what we’ve done since we walked the halls And sat in classes with favorite teachers And on that day with our parents in the bleachers The last day Hogan’s Heroes played.
So bye, bye, Framingham South High Grabbed my knowledge—went to college But I didn’t know why. And then some others—went their own diverse ways Life is a journey—You deserve happiness each day.
“And that’s the way it is. Saturday, October 1st, 2022.”
“It’s 10 PM. Do you know where your children are?” [TV Sign-Off]
[CUE: Star Spangled Banner]
[CUE: TV Test Pattern]
About the Author
Trained as a school psychologist, Dr. Howie Knoff has been an international consultant for over 40 years. When consulting with districts, schools, and other educational or psychological/mental health groups, he typically is guided by one or more components of his evidence-based and award-winning program, Project ACHIEVE.
Howie is a hands-on practitioner--guided by research and his years of experience in working with some of the most challenging communities, schools, and students across the country; as well as his ability to form positive, lasting relationships that reinforce and strengthen others' knowledge and skills. In the end, his primary focus is on facilitating collaboration and shared leadership, building capacity and independence, and guiding sustained and demonstrable student, staff, school, and system outcomes.