Friday, December 11, 2009

Columbus High School, R.I.P.

Imagine picking up the Freeman one day and reading that the high school from which you graduated was about to close. Kingston High, Saugerties, Rondout Valley, whatever ... it probably would hit you in the pit your stomach to get that kind of news. It's not unlike the loss of a loved one.

That's what I experienced this week when I discovered that my high school, Christopher Columbus, located in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, has been placed on death row by the New York City Department of Education.

Word is Columbus - once one of the city's finest schools - has had a depressingly low graduation rate in recent years, as well as significant discipline problems. It apparently made putting Columbus on the chopping block an easy decision.

I'm a graduate of the Class of 1966. All these years later, the bad parts of my high school experience don't seem too bad. I'm more likely to remember the hours in the closet-like office of the school newspaper and yearbook, and hours more as a gym rat - no, not as a player, but as a manager for the basketball team. I pretty much enjoyed my three years at Columbus. That's how I remember it now, anyway.

The actress Anne Bancroft graduated from Columbus. So did actor Sal Mineo and former state Attorney General Bobby Abrams. TV newscaster Darlene Rodriguez is one of the more recent alums. Other "notables" include "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz and one of the first known transgender celebrites Christine Jorgensen (originally George Jorgensen). Actor John McGiver was a teacher at Columbus. Where I fit into this mix is for others to decide.

For now, I can tell you that impending demise of Columbus made me find an alumni site on the Web, to which I paid $10 to join and from which I'll probably buy a sweatshirt.

I've never been a sentimental type. But I'm in my sixties now, a lot closer to the end than the beginning. I guess that prompts waves of nostalgia.

The high school building will be retooled for other uses. So there's no need for me to hurry down for one last look. That said, I suspect next time I'm heading to Long Island on the New England Thruway, I'll take a detour at the Pelham Parkway exit and steer the 10 minutes or so west to wave good-bye.
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