Don Waddell—2


Recently Marvin O’Koon and I had lunch together and reflected nostalgically on our years at Seneca and wondered if there was a way to capture the uniqueness of the class of '63. I wrote the essay below in an attempt to do that. Love to know your take on our high school experience.


Don Waddell

We were boomers before the term had been invented. And for better or worse, we led the way for our demographic. Our “Builder” parents had endured the depression and defeated fascist enemies, saved us and our way of life and then they set in motion an economic boom the likes of which the world had never seen. We reaped the benefit of their success and sacrifice without the hardship and heroism.

But we had to contend with our own challenges.

1. Racial tensions, long suppressed in our culture burst unavoidably into our awareness as the Civil Rights movement began in earnest during our high school years.

2. The sexual revolution gained prominence in our time. Hugh Hefner and the Kinsey Report unmasked a simmering reaction to what some considered puritanical repression. Meanwhile as adolescents we were conducting our own sexual experimentation but of another kind.

3. We experienced the assassinations of beloved icons and the scars reached deep into our psyches.

4. During our decade the Vietnam War simmered and then burst into flames, dramatically polarizing our nation.

5. As trailblazers we saw the beginning of the drug culture and how it radically transformed our lives and relationships.

6. With our growing affluence, many of us took for granted cars our parents gave us to drive, spacious homes in the suburbs, and Bass Weejuns that would have cost our grandparents a week’s wages.

Into this turmoil entered the class of 1963. We were not a unique group in particular but it was a unique time and an unprecedented circumstance. Part of our uniqueness at Seneca High School was our demographic diversity. Unlike the homogeneity of many school districts, we drew from the largely black Newburg area as well as the white suburbs. Into this mix was added a large proportion of the Jewish community and a significant number of Catholics and Protestants.

A second reality that set Seneca class of ’63 apart from others is that the vast majority of us began attending the new school together in 1957 and became the first class to go 7th through the 12th grade at Seneca. There were no traditions; we made our own. There was no legacy to fall back on. We were a blank sheet of paper and began to write our history unencumbered by presupposition or “the way it was always done.”

Sports were a unifying factor bringing together the disparate factions and helping them to rally around the team. Our growing individualism and occasional self absorption gave way to cooperation, a value so important to our builder parents.

 I don’t think we realized it then but in retrospect we were blessed with an unusually gifted and dedicated faculty. It wasn't until much later that we realized how special our teachers and administrators were. Mr. Farmer was fully invested in us and broke the mold in many respects, the “Lonesome Polecat” mascot being just one example. Mrs. Kraft, Ms. Agee, Mr. Matthews, Ms. McQuillen (among many others) were, like our parents, committed to hard work, sacrifice, and excellence; feeding our minds while they shaped our character. Coaches Mulchay, Cane, Ash, etc. developed athletes and gave us teams we could be proud of.

Now 45 years later, what are we to make out of all this? For the most part we had our careers and made our fortunes or something equivalent. We've raised our families and now enjoy our grandkids, travels and other preoccupations. As I read through the biographical sketches I am fascinated by the many success stories. Even more interesting is the often circuitous journey that led us to where we are four and a half decades later. It is amazing to see how most of us ended up in place we never intended to go after graduation. It was an opportunity here, a failed relationship there, a draft notice, an unexpected illness, or simply mundane twists and turns that led many of us to a place in 2008 that we never would have expected in 1963. Yet for most of us, the high school experience at Seneca was among the most important years of our lives. It was unique. It was special. We would not be the same without it.

Jul 31, 2008 

Seneca High School—Class of '63