To paraphrase The Beatles, it was fifty years ago today my Ignatius career got underway. I may be no Paul McCartney, but Paul McCartney never received an acceptance letter from St. Ignatius High School, and I wouldn’t trade places with him for anything in the world.
I can still remember getting off the bus at the corner of West 78th Street and Newport Avenue and seeing my mom standing in the driveway waving a letter in the air. It took me about two seconds to run to her, take the letter and read that I was admitted to the Class of 1977 of St. Ignatius High School.
With the letter came a pamphlet listing all the classes the school offered, which were required, and which were electives. I looked it over with the same excitement as someone handed a menu from their favorite restaurant, and I was overwhelmed with all of the choices ahead. I plotted out the next four years of my academic life with the intensity of Ralphie Parker as he decoded the Ovaltine message in The Christmas Story.
Looking back on that afternoon, and I am not being hyperbolic, this was probably the happiest I had been up to that point in my life. In my mind, not only did I have so much to look forward to during my time as a Wildcat, but I also held the key to future happiness in my hands. I could not wait to study history, science, mathematics, English, and theology. But more than anything else, the allure of learning Latin and Greek - especially Greek - was the brass ring of acceptance to Ignatius. All I knew about Greek at that point was that it had a different alphabet and those incredibly fascinating mythological heroes and stories.
Much like those receiving their acceptance letters this week, I had no idea how much work lay ahead. Declensions and conjugations in Latin and Greek, proofs in geometry, Mr. Pasko’s really intense quizzes with their unbelievably obscure bonus questions (I will never forget that our book described Julius Caesar as “taciturn”) - all of these were beyond my reality as I pored over course choices on that gray winter afternoon in 1973. The innocence of youth kept me shrouded from the intellectual terrors that lay ahead, and thank God for that.
For now, the life of a newly admitted Wildcat rightfully focuses on things like what Ignatius gear to wear and what still needs to be bought, on what exploits will define his career as an athlete, as an actor, as a writer, as a debater, etc. Term papers to be written, Spanish vocabulary to be memorized, AP courses to navigate - these are all in the undefined future and are concerns for another day.
There are so many people for whom the whole “high school thing” is a bad memory and fodder for the therapist’s couch, but the thousands of graduates of Saint Ignatius whose ties of new days with the old have not been severed and tell a different story. Loyalty to the place and the people is a hallmark of our alumni. Those young men on the cusp of their Ignatius careers are in the wonderful bubble of the newness of being an “Ignatius man forever.”
That bubble is a great place to be, but the pinprick of reality will arrive when the work begins. Yet, the memory of the time in the bubble will remain forever. On that cold Ohio afternoon in 1973, I experienced what I thought was the best day of my life. I know now that I was wrong. It was a significant day, one that holds a very special place in my heart, but it was only the beginning, the first of many.
Men of the Class of 2027, enjoy the days in the bubble, but remember that they are merely the first steps of an incredible and life-changing experience.
As we like to say here at 1911 West 30th Street: Welcome home.