SOMETHING HAPPENED HERE

- A Farewell To A Building -


With a new building awaiting and a 50th-anniversary approaching, L-S is about to step across the threshold into a new era. A Herculean effort went into the new edifice that now stands shining before us. With the passage of time, inevitably comes the need for change, much of it good. But there’s also a lot worth remembering about that first half-century in our present location.

First off, honor must be paid to this leaky pile of bricks. After all, buildings are people too, or at least their character helps give form to our lives. After WWII, Churchill ordered that the bombed-out Parliament building be rebuilt exactly as it had been before the war. “The spaces we create,” he explained, “shape us.”

To appropriate Churchill’s thought, this place shaped us perhaps more than we have appreciated. When periodic expansion was necessary, the building just kept creeping along horizontally, forming courtyards as it went. These courtyards, though underutilized, were beautiful. And the fact that we were all more or less on the same level meant that we kept flowing through each other’s lives. We could feel at ease with students hanging out because we were usually able to supervise them (more or less) in the course of just going about our business. We bumped into each other a whole lot in these halls. Like a Galapagos Island mini-ecosystem, the haphazard architecture of this place favored and nurtured the development of an eccentric culture, though this surely wasn’t planned.

More than this, wonderful things have happened here, which is why students were so willing to join hands and give the building a big affectionate hug on our 40th anniversary in 1996. There were and continue to be so many great classes taught by a dedicated, interesting faculty that never developed a time-clock mentality, but always placed students at the center of things. There were terrific plays put on by Rogers and Kirshner and later by the Plotts and Germanotta, their creative genius challenged (ok, sometimes to the breaking point) by the seriously inadequate facilities. We have been fortunate in having several teachers who’ve established rich choral and musical traditions here. And what creative work poured out of our art rooms and shops!There have been more Holocaust remembrances, Metco diaspora luncheons, food bank trips, Jimmy Mack AIDS marches, and camping expeditions than can be counted. (And, by the way, thank you to that counter in student services that supported many a petition drive!) Clubs grew here like mushrooms after rain, from GSA to Tibet to Seinfeld to Amnesty and beyond.

How about thrilling sports victories and even state championships? How about unbelievable heart on field and court and in the water? You bet!...and of course our share of heartbreaking defeats. Publications? Sure. Try the Fountain, Dyad, the Promethean, the Forum, Echoes, and the Mosaic. Across our nearly 50-year history, there were two mass walkouts by students who decided that classes aren’t always the most important thing, and once student activists even built a Soweto shantytown right on the property, very close to where the rainbow flag was raised a year or so ago. From this building, amazing trips went out to every corner of the globe. And here were developed so many alternative and imaginative programs, all of them trying to reach kids who were lost but who really wanted to be found. There were passionate murals painted on walls, mostly with permission. And, this old building has hosted more than its share of great assemblies, festivals, and concerts, from the old SpringThing to Gospel nights to MLK’s birthday to Tuvan throat-singing to Navaho code-talking.

And yes, there were arguments, debates, and even occasional incivilities. When I was a young teacher, the library appeared to me like the well of Congress, and it was Calhoun vs. Webster week after week, or so it seemed. I see now that the fireworks went off because we all cared so much. Under our leaky roof, there have also been real friendships formed between students and staff and between colleagues–a few of whom even fell in love.

The society created within these walls –the “L-S Community,” as we came to call it–welcomed and embraced everyone. Whether you were professional staff, administrative support, building and grounds, or students, there
was a mutual respect and appreciation for all. Friendships jumped easily over job titles. In how many other school buildings has this occurred?

Very sad things also happened during our life here, and these need to be remembered as well. Here we learned about the Challenger disaster on one cold mid-term exam day. And none of us will ever forget where we were when we first heard about 9/11. Now there’s one memory that can never be demolished. Whenever we chance to think about that day–and there will be many occasions no doubt–we’ll return in our minds to the hallways of the old L-S. There were many hushed conversations here, as we learned about the deaths of colleagues and students, whether through tragic illnesses, or in terrible accidents, or by their own hand. We even had students who were murdered. These are losses and shocks one never gets over. I remember the day that school closed down so that we could all attend the funeral of our revered assistant principal, Frank Heys. Along with the laughter, debates, and gossip, much grief has been shared in this building over these past five decades. There were deaths in this family.

Like people, buildings have a life that begins and ends. Last year, when the old Massachusetts Mental Health Center (affectionately known as “Mass Mental”) was closed pending its demolition, the devoted staff marked the occasion by literally carpeting the three floors of the hospital with flowers. A place of absolute last resort for the most unfortunate among us, Mass Mental went out “in bloom.” Such a moving and unique commemoration! What if a flower was placed in this building for every wonderful thing that ever happened here? I think old L-S would become the largest and most beautiful bouquet in the world.

There’s been so much life and energy here that this old building had to struggle to contain it. Maybe that’s how the leaks began, who knows?

Yes, something happened here–and that “something” expanded our view of what a public high school could be. That’s a pretty fair legacy

A new building waits, and I’ve heard that it’s hi-tech “connected.” Let’s hope that like its predecessor, it will also provide a warm, supportive home for a progressive vision of education, that more energy will course
though it than even miles of tackboard could possibly contain, and that life, ideas, creative disorder, spontaneity, and passion will always be pressing on its seams.

Farewell, L-S. Thanks!

Welcome, L-S. Here we come!

Bill Schechter,
Lincoln-Sudbury,
2004