Below are my June 8 remarks at the 50th anniversary of Crossroads Middle School. I am an alumnus of Crossroads and was proud to speak at a recent dinner commemorating this glorious event. Fred Nadler, the principal in that era, was on hand as were scores of faculty both current and former.
Dr. Nadler, Mr. De Lucia, Mrs. Kerekes, faculty and friends of Crossroads:
I am so proud of my South Brunswick education. It is a boast I use with pride, a boast I use with zeal and a boast that, anyone who knows South Brunswick has no doubt that I am speaking of with the utmost sincerity.
When I sat in the Crossroads gymnasium at graduation as part of the eighth grade class of 1988, I was somewhat timid, sometimes bullied, very unorganized and unsure of my aspirations, I recall the ceremony, the dance that followed and the faculty wave in the parking lot. A few days later, it hit me that I would not be going back to Crossroads in the fall. I remember thinking – I wish I had one more day. Today, 29 years later, we’re older, grayer (some of us), but I get to have that one last day.
I am a student of history and I am reminded today of words of John F. Kennedy (who believe it or not would have turned 100 last week). When asked about his legacy he said that “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Bouvier to Paris.” And that’s how I feel today. So many people here today and not had such impact on my life and I’m forever grateful. See while South Brunswick High School matured me (I worked there after school and for two summers in a row), Crossroads provided me with the some of the most important fundamentals for just about everything.
Dr. Nadler, I really didn’t have much interaction with you which I guess was good from a student/principal point of view but I do remember how you brought not and smile to the faces of your students by bringing to school your little dog named Sebastian.
In the mid-1980s, Crossroads had five units. Imagine that – current principals. They were Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma and Omega. I was a member of the latter. And the quality was first-rate.
In Social Studies, Dr. Dorgan taught us about the Constitution (which was turning 200 that year), Europe China, Calgary where the Winter Olympics were taking place and Wall Street. In English, Gary Abbamont, the greatest teacher in the history of South Brunswick (notebook checks and all), taught us sentence structure, punctuation and other things so important for me as a writer. In Science (I’ll get to that great teacher in a moment), we learned about HIV and “just say no,” to drugs which were becoming increasingly prevalent, as well as of course the systems of the human body. The other teacher in Omega was Mrs. Taffin but I didn’t have her because I was in remedial math. But that was what was so great about Crossroads – you were never alone. The staff was proactive – they were quick to see when a student was having issues and they were quick to take steps to correct them.
I also want to mention chorus with Mr. Haney, gym with Messrs. Young and Jost where I’d bug them about playing dodgeball, and a cake decorating class with Mrs. Olynyk. One day I made what was supposed to be a seven-layer cake. Upon seeing it, she was gracious but my classmates weren’t. They’d ask me what happened to the other six.
Dominating the news: international terrorism, Russia, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. You know what they say about past being prologue.
Times were simpler. Across the street, there was Liberty Pizza where we’d eat on half-days and Butler’s General Store. Dayton and Monmouth Junction was connected by a rickety bridge surrounded for the most part by trees. It was a time when cable was still in its infancy which meant that everyone generally got the same news. And it was a time when respect for the president and respect for the presidency wee not mutually exclusive. One may have had fierce disagreements but Ronald Reagan was our Commander-in-Chief.
Let me briefly pay a quick tribute to some of the “late-greats” who while no longer with us, are without question looking down on us smiling.
To Bill Anderson, to Lou Pini, to Marge LeClaire, to Joe Squindo and John Tiene, you were all teachers for the kids. You ingratiated yourself with them for student activities and were always
To the wondrous Ted Cherry, the Science teacher I was speaking of before. His classes were a little bit lighter but as the wonderful and compassionate Mayor of our town, you could see how revered he was by staff as he’d walk down the hall.
And to Nick Pazinco. His legacy at Crossroads stands as tall as the Greek pyramids he’d often speak about. His seriousness and gruff appearance as the disciplinarian belied the fact that he was a gentle, kind man whose biggest concern was the progress of his students.
In closing, you want to be around the people who epitomize the best of public education, you’re sitting among them right now.
Finally, in the words of the immortal Dido, “thank you for the best days of my life.”