My time was very well spent. The value didn’t come from nostalgia, for my high school years were far from wonderful. Instead, I see my time in high school appreciatively because it shaped me in important ways...just as it shapes young people everywhere. Being reminded of that shaping process, with all of its inescapable highs and lows, was very warm…and very fuzzy.
As I walked the hallways that June day, I enjoyed taking in the signs on classroom doors. Among the many were these emphatic (!) examples:
- There may be a speech in progress.
- Please wait for applause before entering!
- If the 5-minute tardy limit has passed and this door is closed, report to the academic office!
- Just do math!
- Welcome back, Mrs. Novak. We missed you! ( a maternity leave returnee, as it turned out…)
Many of today’s Andover High School physical hallmarks are just as they were during my time. For example, the trademark sandstone color of hallway bricks is pervasive - and tasteful - even now. The 9-woman “Jills’ acapella singing group, formed in 1955, entertains still. Wall-mounted ceramic drinking fountains in the hallways remain a mere 3 feet up from the floor. (They seemed undersized even then, and we students always had to bend deeply from the waist in order to get a drink!) The principal’s office remains… the principal’s office: imposing, centrally-located and effortlessly conveying a ‘no-nonsense’ atmosphere.
As a varsity runner, I spent ample time practicing in the hallways after hours. Today, the interior smell of Andover’s hallways remains distinctive. I remember a janitor telling me years ago that the smell was driven by a compound called ‘carborundum’ that he used to sweep the floors at night. His modern-day counterpart - a woman, by the way - advised that such compounds are no longer used at all. Hmmmm….. I continue to smell that familiar smell, nonetheless.
Evidences of change over 40+ years are myriad, of course. There’s now a security system, for example; visitors must be buzzed in. In another sign of the times, there’s a metal detector in the doorway to the media center. The football field, once a haven for ruts, dandelions and entirely different generations of grass seed, now has a brightly colored, very uniform artificial surface. Each hallway features an illuminated red digital clock overhead. An elevator on the south side of the building now lifts and lowers students with disabilities. Today’s lockers are a contemporary teal; back in the day, I remember them being a dull putty color.
Smoking is no longer allowed anywhere on the property; the boys’ room has an astoundingly different olfactory atmosphere than it did in 1968! Finally, there’s a whole trophy case dedicated to……forensics. (Surely, a sign of our times…)
A particularly obvious physical change is found in a small courtyard between two wings at the south end of the building, near the shop and arts area. In my day, the evergreen in the center of that court was Christmas tree sized. Today, it’s fully 45 or 50 feet tall. It’s so broad that its boughs span nearly the entire 35” width of that courtyard! (I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess; I’ve ‘expanded’, too…)
There’s ample evidence of change beyond Andover’s nuts-and-bolts features. Enhanced educational opportunities are now hosted by such non-traditional venues as a nearby working farm, a nature center in the next village, and a good number of independent study options under the heading “model high school.”
I nonetheless suspect that today’s Andover High experience has powerful similarities to mine. The current mission statement suggests as much. It reads: “AHS is dedicated to preparing every student for a changing future by emphasizing academic scholarship, encouraging participation, embracing cultural diversity and promoting emotional and physical well being.” While today’s tools for “preparing students for a changing future” may be different, the process of maturation which takes place - easily for some high schoolers; with great difficulty for others - certainly provides profound common ground.
After all, no matter how much more sophisticated, culturally dissimilar or technically adroit today’s students are, each must still strike a personal balance with teachers and peers. Each needs to seek his or her level in a social pecking order which constantly evolves. Everyone needs to decide how to allocate available time and energy wisely. In fact and importantly, each boy and girl must develop a side of his or her nature to which a formal high school curriculum does not and cannot pay much attention.
As I prepared to leave, I noticed a sign opposite the principal’s office which was pregnant with timeless encouragement. It was lettered in a casual, colorful way suggesting it was student handiwork. It struck me as far more than merely random words on another inspirational poster, however. On the contrary, it provided lucid insight into the enduring and developmental mission of this and all high schools over the years. The sign read: “Be the change you wish to see in the world. Notice. Choose. Act.”
Some educational goals, I concluded as I exited dear, old Andover High, are identical, generation after generation. As I made my way to the parking lot, I was inexplicably reassured by that unoriginal but potent impression.