Op/Ed: What’s so special about the Darien High Class of 1974?
I am a Darien native who experienced the school system in the 60’s and 70’s. It was an amazing time in this town. I went to Baker School (where we could walk home for lunch if we wanted to). During the Cold War, we had emergency drills where we would file down to the basement by class and sit along the wall with our heads between our knees (not even knowing what the words ”nuclear war” meant or where Cuba was at six years old). We were all dismissed early the day President Kennedy was shot, upset that our teachers were unabashedly crying and hugging one another in grief. There were few (or no) school buses then. We walked en masse with our neighborhood friends and buzzed with excitement the day after The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.
There were two Junior Highs: Middlesex (maroon and gold) and Mather (green and white) whose rivalry could be compared to the present day Darien/New Canaan rivalry. There were no intramural sports so we competed with all of the other county schools in football, basketball and baseball. One particularly amusing recollection was in ninth grade (freshman still went to junior high back then) when we got to decide on a class field trip with our fundraising money. We voted to go to a concert in Port Chester to see Johnny Winter. It was approved by the administration and our class advisor chaperoned us to this event (imagine a school bus pulling up to the theatre with a load of geeky 14 year olds getting out). Much to our advisor’s horror, it was a rock concert!! She thought we were going to see Jonathan Winters, the comedian!
On to Darien High….with its ugly blue brick, California style layout and courtyards (a smoking section to boot), one level and four wings that came together at a too-small intersection that, when the bell rang and classes changed, created a gridlock that was comical (or not, if you were small in stature). Streaking was a fad and the yearly class prank brought out the most imaginative of ideas. A Volkswagen was disassembled and reassembled in the intersection, C wing was flooded, the flagpole was filled from top to bottom with tires (my class), to name a few.
There was so much creativity back then. Raw, natural creativity. Art and music were major parts of our curriculum and so many students thrived in that environment. Any events that were planned were advertised by posters that were designed and hand silkscreened by the students. Our yearbooks were designed by the yearbook committee and all of the candid photos were taken by students and developed in the school darkroom. Theatre 308 was HUGELY popular, Neirad equally so. Post 53 began in 1972 or ’73 and that was wholeheartedly embraced. There are many alumni who went into the medical field after graduation.
My point? I have an extraordinary class: Multi-faceted, talented, successful, diverse and generous. The Class of 1974 has been giving scholarship money to graduating seniors for the past 19 years. At our 20th reunion we had a surplus of money and decided that night to set up a memorial fund to honor our classmates who have died. That first year we gave $2500. Last year we gave $32,000 (we raised $16,000 and one of my classmates anonymously matched that). Each year the fund grows as more folks give and some dig deeper. I encourage people to donate with one of our deceased classmates in mind who might have been a friend or who had touched them in some way.
I include my classmates in the selection process by sharing some of the applicant’s essays and giving a breakdown of their school accomplishments and academic achievements. After an initial weeding out (there are many who apply for aid), I receive feedback from my class. No names or any personal information is ever shared…..it’s completely confidential and anonymous. I am the only one who has that information.
Over the years I have tried to encourage other graduating classes to do the same thing: Pay it forward. There is so much need for so many students. Darien is an affluent community, yes. But not everyone is wealthy and without financial problems. Each year, when the Darien High School scholarship chairperson meets with me to review the applications, I have to fight the tears. Many of the situations these kids face at home are heart wrenching in a myriad of ways…………single parent households, family illnesses draining the finances, deadbeat fathers, job losses, 2,3, and 4 siblings also in college….I could go on and on. Imagine if each graduating class gave even $5,000 each year! What a difference we ALL could make in the life of these deserving students by giving them a boost and not forcing them to be burdened with government loans.
If anyone reading this is a DHS alum and would like to speak with me regarding the setting up of a scholarship fund, please contact me at CDMSF@ymail.com. I’d be thrilled to help and explain how simple it truly is. If you would like to donate to this fund, please send to 412 Main St. Old Saybrook, CT 06475 check: Class of 74 Memorial Scholarship) or PayPal CDMSF@ymail.com
In memory of: Robert Austin, David Bean, Walter Bean, Pamela Beatty, Pat Boller Welsh, Rebecca Brann, Craig Bulkley, Warren Carranza, Karen Evers, Mary Ann Johnston, Keith Kuban, Minnie Marshall, Laura Molony Ziegler, Andrew Nelson, Catherine O'Hearn, Pamela Polhemus Smith, Jody Saunders Richard, David Saverine, Christopher Sepe, Cathie Shanahan Cochrane, Peter "Scott" Sutcliffe, Leslie Taylor Browne, David Teare, Ben Waldron, Patricia Whelan, Jerry Yates.
P.S As I write this, we’ve raised $23,000 so far.
Class of 1974 Memorial Scholarship