Went to two graduations on Thursday – middle school and high school.
Listened to graduates called up for diplomas – familiar town names over the years, Italian, African-American, Polish.
Meantime, mischief was being made in Washington, D.C, and Great Britain.
The Supreme Court was showing its contempt for the new wave of immigrants and British voters were choosing to leave the European Union, mainly because of immigration. (That's the thanks they show for the grand gift of curry and roti; they were eating bangers and mash before they let in the new people.)
The student speaker at one graduation had a Hispanic name, spoke perfect English in a witty talk.
The next generation. The Jordans and the Jennifers. America.
I heard names being called that came from India and Pakistan. Central America. Korea and China and Japan. Several young women bowed their heads, Asian-style, to their teachers on the stage,
I eavesdropped as three mothers greeted each other, one with a thick Hispanic accent. Their familiarity spoke of parent-teacher conferences, art shows, sidelines at soccer matches on nippy afternoons.
In Washington and Britain, people were building walls, you might say.
The same week a great moral leader, an American treasure named John Lewis, reminded some of us how to demonstrate for fairness. The sourpuss speaker of the house labelled it a stunt. Guess he never studied civics in Wisconsin.
The middle school graduates lined up in alphabetical order, with four years of order ahead of them.
In the late afternoon, the high-school graduates swarmed in no order whatsoever, clusters of friends, glimpses of cutoffs and shorts under billowing robes – all energy and brashness, more than ready to move on.
Taxes are brutal in this part of the world, but the school district has done its job. We heard these graduates had earned $2.2-million in scholarships.
In this one corner of the world, the system seemed to be working.
At one family gathering, both graduates brought friends with recent roots overseas. Nice kids. Bright eyes. On their way.
In Scotland, the presumptuous Republican candidate – who, by the way, looks puffy, pasty-faced, not well, about to explode – congratulated the Scots for the Brexit vote.
He somehow missed the point that the Scots had voted to remain in the E.U. The Scots are mocking him, big-time.
Guess Wharton didn’t teach civics. Or else Trump simply cannot assimilate facts.
Late that night, money people around the world panicked. That’s the way the lemmings leap.
Happy graduation. Happy world.
Kathleen McElroy used to be the deputy sports editor at the Times. She was calm and smart and knew her sports, including the one called foo’ball. She is, after all, from Texas.
She was running our Olympic bureau in Atlanta in 1996 when the bomb went off after midnight, and she took charge, dispatching us into the darkness and the confusion.
Later she moved up at the Times, editing the Sunday and Monday editions. She was the duty officer when the Columbia exploded in 2003.
Somewhere along the line, she became part of our family, either my third sister or my third daughter -- not that she lacks for family, with sisters galore and the memory of Lucinda and George McElroy, both formidable.
Kathleen’s middle initial is O. Not everybody knows that it stands for Oveta, as in Oveta Culp Hobby, who operated the Houston Post for decades – and under whose leadership George McElroy became the Post’s first African-American columnist.
We always figured Kathleen was one of those out-of-towners who arrive in New York, scout out the restaurants and shops, discover a nice apartment, and stay forever. They are some of the best New Yorkers. But foo’ball may have been a tipoff. She is a Southwestern person.
Kathleen chose to leave the Times, earning a scholarship to the University of Texas. This fall she defended her dissertation -- "Somewhere Between 'Us' and 'Them' -- Black Columnists and Their Role in Shaping Racial Discourse" -- and received her Ph. D. She is now teaching journalism at Oklahoma State University, with emphasis on the African-American experience.
The other day Kathleen sent me a text message that said, “I want to make a difference.” We miss her at family gatherings, and expeditions around the city for the perfect barbecue or the perfect curry. She will make a difference.
Let me first say that I get the creeps whenever I encounter the new journalism buzz-phrase “long-form journalism.”
Long-form -- rhymes with chloroform.
Why not just say “long,” since that seems to be what is being advertised.
To be effective, the writer needs to blend facts, details, descriptions, observations, quotes, opinions, in an interesting manner. That is, the writer needs to be able to write, and the editors need to be able to edit.
That’s long enough, right there. However, some long pieces are glorious, worth reading slowly, carefully, from beginning to end. I just read three over the weekend.
The Passion of Roger Angell. By Tom Verducci. Sports Illustrated, July 21, 2014.
Roger Angell has graced the New Yorker and his own books for the past half century with his writing about baseball (along with other elegant pieces.) On July 26, Angell will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with the annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers of America. (Angell has never held a BBWA card since the New Yorker does not cover baseball on a daily basis.)
Tom Verducci, a Sports Illustrated writer and television commentator, has proven worthy of his subject, accompanying Angell to the cottages and docks and sailboats of his beloved Maine, and even to the cemetery, containing the headstones for Angell’s mother, Katharine Angell White, his step-father, E.B. White, his brother, Joe, his daughter, Callie, and Angell’s wife, Carol, whom he misses badly, and for Angell himself, the stone (1920-) lacking only a final date.
To his immense credit, Verducci captures the bittersweet outlook of a man who is 93 and has much left to say about baseball, about life, about writing:
“I used to have a terribly hard time starting, because when I wrote I didn’t do first drafts. I wrote the whole piece on typewriters and would x out and use Scotch tape. I think I began to realize that leads weren’t a big problem. You can start anywhere.”
For many decades, the best baseball writing of the year would arrive in the mail at the end of spring training -- Roger Angell’s report on spring training, often from the baseball hangout, the Pink Pony in Scottsdale, Ariz., now defunct. The first Angell of spring was a sure sign we would outlive winter, real life was resuming. His pieces could have gone on forever, as far as this reader was concerned. Amazingly, long-form journalism had not yet been invented.
Wrong Answer: In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice. By Rachel Aviv. The New Yorker. July 21, 2014.
Speaking of trends, the current infatuation with testing scores led the Atlanta school system to encourage cheating. Rachel Aviv followed one idealistic educator, feeling forced to abandon actual teaching and caring for the young, down the path to Watergate-style chicanery. Great reporting provides a guide to this tragedy.
The Trials of Graham Spanier, Penn State’s Ousted President. By Michael Sokolove. The New York Times Magazine. July 20, 2014.
The former president of Penn State allowed a seasoned magazine writer to visit him in the wreckage of the child-abuse case involving Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator with the football team. The article says Spanier was brutalized by his own father; I never knew that. Now Spanier faces legal charges that he failed to investigate the possibility that Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys within the football “program.”
There is no doubt Spanier and Joe Paterno were clueless in coping with developing hints and charges about Sandusky. (I listened in on a Paterno press conference in 2008; in retrospect, this was not the same man I had followed for decades, but Spanier could not get him to retire.)
Sokolove makes the case that the institution of Penn State was willing to chuck Spanier and Paterno into history and pay $60-million to the loan-shark-minded N.C.A.A. for the privilege of being able to make more money as a football “program.”
Note: I just discovered a piece by James Bennet in the Atlantic last December, decrying the spawn of longform-journalism. It’s really good. And not that long.
(I am in a rage over the closing of the grand New York tradition, Jamaica High School. The building still stands, built to last forever, on the glacial hill in Queens. My mom was in the first class to enter the new building in February of 1927. I was in the class of 1956, way down, but in it. A decade ago, I visited some honors classes and found education and hope alive and well. But New York let the school get away in recent years, and the most imaginative thing the city could think to do was close it down, and put four experimental schools in corners of the building. We’ll see how that works out. The concept of holding up a beacon to the new and the hopeful and the future of Queens seems to have escaped the city. What rank failure.
(Unable to be around on June 26, to pay homage to the last graduates and dedicated teachers of Jamaica High, I asked Kathy Forrestal, whose family has remained close to Jamaica, to write her impressions.)
By Kathy Forrestal
Not long after this year’s graduating seniors were admitted, the Department of Education moved for a second time to close Jamaica High School and, after four years of slowly phasing out, the school graduated its final 24 students on Thursday, June 26, 2014. “You are the 175th graduating class,” Principal Erich Kendall told the graduates, “and there will not be a 176th.”
I was a member of the class of 1994 and have been involved in efforts to save the school. I’ve had many opportunities to return to Jamaica. Watching the school phase out has been like watching a loved one waste away, particularly for the students and teachers who lived the loss daily. Principal Erich Kendall wondered if immediate closure would have been merciful; others noted that then the students and teachers wouldn’t have been able to spend those years together. The loss of Jamaica is traumatic for those who love the school.
Shortly after I graduated, NY Times reporter and Jamaica alum George Vecsey wrote of a visit to Jamaica, “I see the same energy, the same dreams, the same potential. You remind me of my friends.” I can say the same thing about the graduating class of 2014: they remind me of my friends, and I am happy to welcome them to the Jamaica High School alumni family. I could not be sorrier that there will not be any more members added to this family in the future.
“We were told Jamaica was a failing school, but we came, and we saw,” said graduate Philip Samuel. “We stayed. We chose to come to Jamaica and to work hard with our teachers to overcome any disadvantages associated with attending a closing school.” Twenty-plus years ago I was told I should reconsider my decision to go to Jamaica; how wrong people were. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “I heard it was a bad school, but I was so wrong;” I wish we had been able to make more people believe us. Jamaica was family, a second home and, in spite of phase out, this sentiment was echoed by this year’s seniors.
The Jamaica these students knew was different in many ways than the one I attended. As Jamaica’s student body shrank, the school lost classroom space to the growing schools co-located within the building. Honors and AP courses disappeared, as did the specialized programs like my old Computer Science program. Favorite teachers were excessed, including a teacher who represented the heart and soul of Jamaica. Every semester brought loss. If you can succeed in a phasing out school, Principal Kendall said, you can succeed anywhere. I have no doubt the 2014 graduates will succeed; they are truly impressive young adults.
Student speakers expressed gratitude for the undying support of their teachers. Teachers past and present attended graduation. More than a few were emotional watching tribute videos, including one set to Passenger’s “Let Her Go.” The song’s lyrics say, “'Cause you only need the light when it's burning low, Only miss the sun when it starts to snow, Only know you love her when you let her go.” Jamaica alums know we love the school but just how much we loved her became truly apparent when we had to let her go, but the wonderful thing about Jamaica is the people. That can’t be destroyed and I’m clinging to the knowledge that Jamaica lives on in its alums.
Jamaica has great alums. Assemblyman David Weprin, class of 1974, was saddened by the closure of his alma mater and spoke at graduation of the fact that his brothers (including Mark, a member of the NYC Council) both were alumni as well. The legacy of the school, he said, will live on in its graduates. Given the number of alumni and friends in attendance at graduation – including Borough President Melinda Katz, whose father taught at Jamaica High School, and Special Assistant to the Borough President and former NYC Councilman Leroy Comrie, who graduated in 1976 -- that legacy is strong and will remain.
“These students understood the loyalty and pride of being part of Jamaica High School,” Jamaica High School coach Susan Sutera said. “They carried the legacy of tens of thousands of students who came before them and they did it with incredible honor and dignity. They sent the school out with a bang.”
I never wanted to say good bye to Jamaica. Walking its halls, seeing the mural in the lobby depicting colonial Jamaica, photos of students who attended long before I was even born, trophies representing decades of athletic dominance, and most importantly meeting alums from the 1950s through today, I know without a doubt you can’t replace Jamaica High School.
(I can only echo Kathy’s lovely words. Sue Sutera and James Eterno and Josh Cohen and the other teachers had the same dedication and effect that Irma Rhodes and Jean Gollobin and Rose Kirchman had in my time. The terminators who closed Jamaica High will never understand. It’s their failure but the city’s loss.)
More on Jamaica’s closing:
I spent a lovely day in Brooklyn on Wednesday. As soon as Mike From Whitestone turned downhill, I felt the surging image of Duke Snider slugging the ball over the screen and into Bedford Ave.
Mike parked near McKeever Pl. and I could feel my head swiveling like a compass needle to the apartment buildings where Ebbets Field used to be.
But I was the only person talking about the Brooklyn Dodgers, about ancient history.
The occasion was a career expo at Medgar Evers College, where several hundred very qualified students were seeking leads on jobs, on futures. I heard about the expo through Monica and Miguel Mancebo of Selective Corporate Internship Program (SCIP), which does such a fine job of preparing young people for the job market.
The students saw my soccer book on the table and wanted to talk about their sport. One young woman from Trinidad plays defender for the Medgar Evers team; another young woman roots for VfB Stuttgart, from her home town; a volunteer told me she roots for Barça and her husband roots for Real Madrid. And Michael Flanigan, the director of development and major gifts officer at Medgar Evers, told me how he referees soccer matches in his spare time.
I marveled at the résumés of the Medgar Evers students, their life stories, their work experience. Many of them have worked in kitchens, in day-care centers, in nursing homes. They see it as paying their bills. I told them to be proud of their work; they were learning the process, the system. Many of them want to be doctors and teachers, accountants and, good grief, journalists. I wanted to hire them all.
I hope by now somebody has.
They are a walking advertisement for that elusive blend of sports and education – starting with a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stephen Dunn, all 12 a credit to themselves and the school.
My guys from Hofstra College, circa 1959-60, knew the academic apparatus of that modest commuter school would flunk them right off the team if their grades slipped.
The basketball team from that year, which won 23 games and lost only one, is being honored Saturday by induction into the Athletics Hall of Fame. There is a dinner at 4 P.M. followed by a lacrosse game against sixth-ranked North Carolina.
That team was coached by Butch van Breda Kolff, the former Knick, who would later coach Bill Bradley at Princeton and bench Wilt Chamberlain in a championship loss with the Lakers. They still hear Butch’s piercing whistle in their nightmares.
I was a student publicist on a workship. Saw them up close, kept track of their assists and rebounds, sometimes did the public address, called the results into the papers, and listened to Butch and his assistant Paul Lynner tell great stories at diners, very late at night. That was an education, too.
I’ve written a lot about that team over the years:
The shot by Bob Larsen of Wagner for the only loss of the season. We caught up with Larsen last year in New York:
There was a reunion in 2000, when the players and school got to thank Butch one more time:
But the main thing was, the players went to class – even after late bus rides back from Pennsylvania. They knew the team had been decimated a few years earlier because players were not getting the grades.
This was a small, serious place, where first-generation college students were getting an education. The president was John Cranford Adams, a Shakespearean scholar whose dream was not the basketball team being invited to the National Invitation Tournament but building a permanent home for the Globe Theatre – now the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, a wonderful place. Francis Ford Coppola produced original plays in that building. He was our classmate. Lainie Kazan sang in the musicals. She was also a classmate.
(Did I mention that our football team was 9-0 in 1959? Alas, our aging classmates do not feel part of that any more, since Hofstra abruptly terminated the program in 2009.)
Most of the basketball players are coming back on Saturday, some of them with rebuilt hips and knees after all the torque they put on their bodies. (One of them has a reinforced aorta from a recent operation; others are survivors of this and that; thank goodness for modern medicine.) Stevie Balber, the bow-legged point guard from Brooklyn, who gave everybody nicknames, has passed on.
In 2000, I wrote, “They took their educations and went about being responsible adults.” I mentioned Adam Gadzinski an accountant; Bob Stowers a teacher; Ted Jackson a parole hearing officer; Stan Einbender an endodontist; Curt Block for many years a vice president for media relations at NBC; Richie Swartz a furniture salesman; Bob Lauster a salesman for I.B.M.; Richard Goldstein, operating the family shoe accessory business; Stevie Balber the chairman of a direct-mail company; John McGowan an engineer; Stephen Dunn, poet and teacher; and Brant Alyea who played 361 games in the majors.
I cannot wait to stand at the fringe of these guys I admire so much, and hear the stories – often about Butch. I love Brant’s stories about being managed by Ted Williams and Dick Williams. The players recall how Stowers could do a standing leap from the floor of the gym to the stage at one end of the court; how Swartz could lull you into submission in practice and then flick the ball away with his long arms; how Einbender – the 6-4 captain and leading rebounder -- blew a dunk in the closing minute of his final game and walked straight to the bench, to save Butch the trouble of hauling him off the court for showboating.
They could also talk about the modest commuter college that was doing things right. Their lives reflect that.
* * *
In a totally different time, Hofstra appointed a new coach, Joe Mihalich, on Wednesday. Mihalich, the coach at Niagara for 15 years, replaces Mo Cassara after a turbulent season. Mo put his heart into the school. I wish both of them well.
* * *
Stephen Dunn wrote a lovely essay about his education from Butch and Hofstra, on a site called sbnation.com but the link does not seem to be working without signing up for the site.
WHAT THE CAPTAIN SAID:
(I went to school nine straight years with Stan Einbender, from JHS 157 to Jamaica to Hofstra. We are closer than ever. I enjoyed his remarks on Saturday when Hofstra honored the team, and I enjoy his second thoughts on Sunday. I saw him chatting with a member of the great 81-82 women's team that had such spirit at the dinner. That was one thing we did not enjoy in our time -- visible female athletes. How much richer sports are today with competitors like the women from 81-82. Here are Stanley's remarks GV)
AT THE DINNER:
Speech for ’59-’60 Team
First I would like to thank the committee that gave us this great honor, President Rabinowitz and Athletic director Jeff Hathaway who both seem committed to restoring Hofstra Basketball to the standard that we set. I listened to the news conference on my computer on Wednesday to introduce Coach Michalic and was encouraged that this was a good first step to reaching that standard.
I was the only senior on the team, and I assume that was the reason I was asked to say a few words. I know that some of the other players might be more articulate, such as Steve “Radar” Dunn, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, or even my longtime friend George Vessey who was not a member of the team, but has written many articles about our team in the NY Times. I was eager to take up this task because of the fond memories I hold for this team and our accomplishments, and my gratitude to Hofstra University for giving me the opportunity to compete and get a great education which led to my career as a dentist for 40 yrs.
It is very apropos that we be inducted into the Hofstra Athletic Hall of Fame as a team, because we were the best example of a team. There was no superstar on our team. I believe we had at least five players that averaged double figures. Under the guidance of Coach Butch VanBreda Koff and Ass’t Coach Paul Lynner, we were not interested in who shot or who scored, but only leaving all we had on the court and winning. As our 23-1 record showed, we did a pretty good job.
A successful basketball coach is depends on his recruiting and being able to get his role players to accept their job. Butch had an easy time with the ’59-’60 Team, because we were all role players.
Some players today do not realize what a privilege it is to compete in any inter-scholastic sport, especially at a great school like Hofstra University where we could also receive a great education.
In closing, I would like to mention a conversation I had with Coach Van Breda koff. After leaving Hofstra for the second time, he would return for certain basketball functions. It was very annoying that we seemed to age and loose some hair, and the Coach seemed to stay the same with that boisterous voice. The last time I saw him he looked quite frail. He was suffering from the Parkinson’s Disease that took his life, but he was alert enough say to me, “Stanley, these players today are better athletes, but you guys were better basketball players”. That meant a lot to me then and I am sure it does to all the members of the ’59-’60 Team. It still means a lot to I stand here now.
EINBENDER'S THOUGHTS ON SUNDAY
Last night, I, along with my teammates from the ’59-60 Hofstra basketball team, received the long awaited recognition by being inducted as a team into the Hofstra University Athletic Hall of Fame. Our record of 23-1 stands as the best record ever established by a Hofstra men’s basketball team. As expected, the University put on a great show with lengthy introductions, a great meal, and most important, the recognition of our accomplishments. I was given the honor of speaking for our team, which gave me a chance to thank Hofstra for the great memories that I still hold. The best part of the evening was the ability to renew old friendships with my teammates, many who I have not seen for over 50 years. When I am not looking in the mirror, I still see myself as that smiling person holding the basketball in the ’59-’60 team picture. After seeing my teammates from that team, I realize that our time as basketball players has passed, but at least we definitely had our time. I hope these renewed friendships will continue and we can all keep seeing ourselves as we were in that picture. I believe that those memories will help us to survive in fleeting years that remain.
Tuesday is National Teacher Day, and people are being asked to salute a teacher who made a difference in their lives.
We’ve got teachers in my family – my wife, our daughter-in-law, a sister, a brother, a sister-in-law, two nieces, a nephew and his wife. I’m proud of all of them.
But the teacher I am thanking today is Irma Rhodes, who found me underperforming in high school and turned me around. She opened a world for me, after I had washed out of honors classes at Jamaica High in Queens.
I honor the teacher who did what teachers do – she made English exciting, or fun, or at least tolerable. She was, as I discovered, an educated woman with intellectual and literary interests, and she managed to transmit a bit of her enthusiasm to her class of juniors.
Early in the fall semester, Mrs. Rhodes assigned us to write a book report, any author, any subject. As the son of two journalists, I chose Stranger Come Home by William L. Shirer, a novel by a well-known journalist.
The book was probably lying around the house; my mother probably put it in my hand. (By that time she was legitimately worried that I would remain a slacker.) I did some minimal research and deduced that the plot pretty much matched the career of Shirer – a correspondent in Europe who had been pursued by the red-baiters when he returned stateside after World War Two.
Mrs. Rhodes read the report and asked me to me read parts out loud in class. She was so pleasant that she never transmitted the feeling she was turning me into a teacher’s pet. She just said, this is a book report, and people in the class seemed happy for me. She created a positive mood among the students, which is not easy to do.
She followed it up, talked to me after class, inviting me to work on the school yearbook, promoting me when openings came up. She held salons in her home for the yearbook staff – a bit of work and planning, plus piano playing, literary talk, refreshments. She organized theater outings to Manhattan on weekends – something at the Jan Hus Playhouse on the east side, Anastasia on Broadway.
Oh, yes, and I got a date for the senior prom, much to my shock. A girl, a year older than me, liked my essays when Mrs. Rhodes had me read out loud. (Jean, our class president-for-life, had to virtually order me to ask the girl out.) As Richard Price wrote in a classic essay in 1981, one of his earliest lessons was that being The Writer was a neat way to meet girls.
Mrs. Rhodes and I kept in touch long after I was actually accepted by Hofstra and started working for newspapers. I brought my wife to her home. I mourned when she passed much too soon and I mourned when one of her daughters also passed way too young.
I don’t mind saying I think Mrs. Rhodes was proud of me, the way my wife is proud of the smart young man she taught in her humanities group in the challenging late ‘60’s, who is now a national byline.
I see that same pride in our daughter-in-law who teaches English as a Second Language. I cannot describe how proud I am to see this dedicated young woman going to work every day with the new ethnic groups of my home borough of Queens.
Teachers do this. The vast majority of them care. It makes me crazy to hear taxpayers complain about the alleged high salaries and perks of teachers. “(They get the whole summer off.”) They didn’t see my wife doing lesson plans on weekends, or my sister's daughter using part of her modest salary to buy school supplies for the underprivileged children of her southern town.
About a decade ago, I got to reconnect with my old high school – the same rooms, the same hopeful faces as my contemporaries in the ‘50’s, in some honors classes I visited. I could feel Mrs. Rhodes (and Mrs. Kirchman and Mrs. Gollobin and all the rest) still in that building.
Yet the city of New York saw fit to cook the books so Jamaica High would look like a statistical failure. They are keeping the glorious landmark building open and are tossing out the institution in favor of the new fad of boutique schools.
The teachers of today remind me of the teachers who taught us back in the ‘50’s. I thank them all, and most of all I thank Irma Rhodes.
* * *
I should add: memories of favorite teachers are welcome here, under Comments. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.