Yorktown High School expanded what students call its “glory wall” this month. I was pleased as the alumni committee chairman to do the honors for nine new inductees for their feats in a colorful array of fields.
Our Jan. 25 ceremony at the spanking new North Arlington school building celebrated an intergenerational community – and treated the crowd of 200 to some wisdom delivered in person by a world-famous cutting-edge thinker.
Yorktown boasts the county’s most elaborate formal high school hall of fame (yorktownalums.org). Its 19 (soon to be 28) 14- by 20-inch plaques with color photos of inductees are now mounted on a wall near the gym entrance. There today’s students behold an astronaut, two TV news stars, heads of major corporations, politicos, and authors.
But, of course, the other county high schools have their own notable alums, many of whom can be found in Wikipedia entries.
At Washington-Lee, the wall outside the auditorium displays movie posters featuring Hollywood acting royalty Sandra Bullock, Shirley MacLaine, Forrest Tucker, Gena Rowlands, Warren Beatty, and special effects wizard Stan Winston.
Wakefield, whose alums include hippie doctor Patch Adams, former White House physician William Lang, and Price Waterhouse Coopers CEO Willard Brittain Jr., is “in transition” with its hall of fame because it too has a brand-new building. It will soon remount a display from the 1980s, I’m told.
Similarly, Bishop O’Connell, whose star basketball alum Kendall Marshall just joined the Los Angeles Lakers, says it’s planning to expand its sports hero display to include achievers in all disciplines.
Yorktown’s Hall of Fame and Inspiration, launched in 2004 and updated in 2008, already included news personality Katie Couric, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, TV producer Greg Garcia, Olympic swimmer Tom Dolan, and the late space shuttle crewman Dr. David Brown, among others.
Last week, we added software inventor James Baker, painter Paul McGehee, Kennedy family spokeswoman Melody Miller, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide Chris Nassetta, stage actress Nancy Robinette, orthopedic surgeon David Romness, deejay David “Dave Arlington” Swerdloff, Judge John Tran, and the late Vietnam War veterans activist Lynda Van Devanter.
Criteria for admission, our selection committee established when soliciting nominations, “can be an achiever in any field of endeavor that brings credit to the school. He or she can be famous nationally or locally, living or deceased, and should be inspiring to the school-age students who will walk by their plaques every day.”
When we launched the project, some tragic alumni deaths – including that of airline pilot David Charlebois, who was killed by terrorists during 9/11 – prompted us to add “and inspiration” to the project’s title.
Saturday’s audience of retired teachers, alumni, inductees’ families, and current students (plus school Superintendent Patrick Murphy and School Board Chair Abby Raphael) was wowed when Google chief Schmidt (class of ’72), fresh from the VIP confab in Davos, Switzerland, stood up. After asking the assembled to take out their smartphones, he declared, “You hold in your hands more than a million times the power of the calculator given me [as a Yorktown student by math teacher Wilmer] Mountain.”
For educators, it was the type of belated validation captured in the 1995 film “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
My own ears perked up, as our hard-earned plaques were being installed, to hear a passing young student say, “I didn’t know Katie Couric went to Yorktown.” Mission accomplished.