Then and Now

What have Wheatley plus five decades meant? 


As we plan our half-century reunion in May 2010, the question many of us are probably asking is:

“Can it really be that long since we earned diplomas from that pioneering school in Old Westbury whose name sounded so distinctly unpublic?

The power of our time there resides in memories-- of friendships, first loves, laughter, some wins, a few losses, and a lot of learning in whatever form we found it.

Looking back with hindsight's advantage, most alums seem to agree The Wheatley School was a special place –an unlikely combination of towns joining to create a high school. While the student body wasn't "diverse" in any contemporary sense, there was enough variety that it felt almost multicultural for suburban Long Island, 1950's vintage.

And what a spirited group of classmates gathered there from 1956 to 1960 as the first class to go the full four years, taught by talented, dedicated, and enthusiastic teachers, coaches and staff.

The fun and excitement was heightened by association with the large personalities in classes before us (’58 and ’59) and the characters who followed, especially ‘61 with whom we had great friendships and memorable times. (More later on both our predecessors and successors in a personal perspective.)

As objective as we can be, there’s no doubt Wheatley had a striking debut.  Pride and school spirit was fueled by an undefeated football team in the school’s first year (that many say could have competed with any on Long Island), a great basketball squad, and other accomplishments--both academic and athletic--that were outstanding. 

That atmosphere has been remarked on by teachers who taught there, and went on to other schools. Wheatley was, in their estimation, an untypically accomplished high school and anyone looking at the current website ( will note the tradition of excellence continues.

As proud as we were of being David competing successfully against larger schools, our successors --both male and female--seem to have won even more county championships and scholar-athlete awards. To top it off, Wheatley is now often named among the nation’s  best high schools  in the annual U.S. News & World Report survey, heading the list  a few years ago, and 88th (of  2,100 rated) this year.

A sense of such successful succession was commented on by Bob Holley ’58, who helped coordinate the website for his class.  He published Ken Martin’s 2006 blog with a summary of their very memorable event two years ago and noted:

“There is one post from another friend (Martino) I thought you would all like to read--an outstanding recollection of good times, privileges, and memories we all shared, a recognition of how much his class respected ours, and maybe most important (if Ken typifies those sophomores )--from the various brave stories he tells, from the mature intelligence age has bestowed on him, and from the spirit he exudes, you know for certain we “passed the torch” on to a gutsy, perceptive and very talented set of younger schoolmates.  From the success Wheatley always seems to have been, we can safely assume that they did likewise to their underclassmen, and so on. Vertitatem Quaerite!” 

You can read Ken’s blog at  (ID Wheatley 60) if you establish your own password or use mine (shamrock60). Note this site is where you can add your own comments and inform your classmates about your lives since graduating. 

Following the “then and now” theme, we might all reflect on such questions as:  How did our Wheatley experiences change us? And, more importantly, how have we gone on to grow, mature, thrive, endure, struggle, and, in some cases, raise the next generation? 

An answer to the first question is probably that we were influenced in countless ways---much like our own teenagers—we dimly understood. Probably the simplest summary is  “I’m a part of all I've met."  None can deny it was our fate to grow up in a fascinating, though protected, time and place--a peaceful "eye" before many storms to come. From the contemporary perspective of  9/11 plus eight, our innocence “back in the day” seems striking, though we would never have thought so then.

The class of 1960 graduated in the glow of optimistic prospects, inspired by the promise of an exciting young president who seemed to be talking directly to us when he spoke of   "the torch being passed to a new generation." And we responded with  confidence in being able to effect change that sent some into the Peace Corps and countless other pursuits, armed with faith we could make a difference.

The assassinations of John Kennedy--and later his brother Robert and Martin Luther King—made some profound changes in the mentality (and humility) of our generation. The Vietnam War also loomed large, especially for those who served there, but was a factor that impacted all of our thoughts about the nature of reality and politics. 

No longer the Rolling Stones, but not yet the Grateful Dead, most of us wouldn't choose to time-machine back to the thrilling days of yesteryear, but there's a fascination in remembering what it was like--and what we were like--with others who were there with us. Not a matter of wanting to live in the past, just not wanting to lose it completely. 

Selected Responses from earlier class surveys (e.g. 1999 +) 

Most vivid memories of Wheatley years:

      Spirit and pride in the new school

      The closeness of the class-camaraderie, affection among classmates, friends, laughter

      The innocence of a simpler time, parties, a safe feeling, lockers without locks

      Competition on and off athletic fields, successful athletic teams

      A close community of diverse people

Sunflowers may have become roses in many of our memories, but I hope we’ll be able to encourage a good core of class members to attend our 50th   May 14-16 next year   There’s been some  preliminary planning and a dinner is scheduled for Saturday night at Wheatley Hills Country Club on East Williston Avenue (AKA Hillside Avenue.)

We’re open to suggestions on other activities-- some being considered are a visit to Wheatley on Friday, perhaps some interaction with students in classes, followed by a barbecue that night.

On Saturday, many ideas have surfaced--a nostalgic return to Jones Beach, some sporting events (e.g. tennis, golf, or even--for those who dare--a touch football game, for old time’s sake!), or attending a Wheatley athletic game.  Sunday possibilities might include brunch, a visit to a North Fork vineyard, a cruise around Manhattan Island, or whatever events your fertile minds may suggest.

So chime in with your ideas, hopefully your reservations to attend and participate, but at least your thoughts, what you’ve done since graduation, or memories. You can record them on this blog ( --you may need to open a Google account --no charge-- to compose messages.) 

Some 25 classmates have already signed up to attend the reunion weekend and you can by contacting our class shepherd, Elaine Kent Abrams, at You can also reach me at or Ken Martin at

The class of ’58 put together a rather amazing collection of biographical blog  commentaries--candid, heartfelt and fascinating for the maps they drew of  their lives. I’m pledging to complete my own in the next few days and hope you’ll also take a crack at yours.

Meanwhile, I’ll close this introductory perspective, which I hope will attract some commentary (dissent, critiques or whatever) by saying that one of the joys of my life has been keeping in touch with old pals across the miles and years. I agree with Yeats’ memorable lines:

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends.” 

Paul Hennessy
Newton Centre, MA