"Defining A Class"

Article found in the Counselor written by Mr. Richard Burns.


Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what nobody says Ain't nobody like to be alone.

Bruce Springsteen, "Hungry Heart"


Springsteen's lyrics capture the need to identify with something larger than oneself or to discover some bond that unites us with others. For many, this need draws us back to high school and the individuals, events, and experiences that defined us, even decades after graduation.

After sixty years, institutions, much like individuals, often review their past and sort out what memories should be preserved and passed on to posterity. The challenge in this historical process is to sift through a mass of past data and to decide to memorialize one event or one person, rather than others. This process is subjective, but unavoidable. Without meaning to disrespect anyone or anything, let me face the common question that invariably arises at graduations and reunions—how can a particular class be defined?

Sometimes a class is defined by being the first or the last to share a special experience. The late Dr. Joe Fortuna, one of eight members of the first class to graduate from Good Counsel (1961), once conveyed to me his excitement in being a trailblazer who set the road for subsequent classes to follow.

Conversely, members of the class of 2006, the last to graduate from Wheaton, recount breaking into the recently closed school to claim some mementos before construction teams leveled the building.

The last exclusively male class (1989) has lamented the loss of a distinctive male culture, while the first class with female graduates (1990) has taken pride in the opportunity to create a new Good Counsel culture. The classes of 1988 and 1989 might well identify with being the last to experience the charisma of Brother (now Mr.) Barry Fitzpatrick and chaplain Fr. Maury O'Connell, both of whom helped shape the very successful junior retreat program. Meanwhile, the class of 2017 was the first to reap the benefits of the long anticipated Performing Arts Center, highlighted by an outstanding performance of the play Titantic. Surely, other classes recall having a distinctive experience at Good Counsel.

A second way to define a class is by association with historical events. I can sense the excitement of the class of 1960, with a high percentage of Irish Catholics, as they reminisce about the significance of John Kennedy's presidential election. Or imagine the tears and confusion a few years later when students tried to cope with Kennedy's assassination.

Other events, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the DC riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), President Nixon's fall from power (1973), the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (2001), the DC Sniper (2002), and the elections of Barack Obama (2008) and Donald Trump (2016) certainly helped define those classes. History became frozen in time by such dramatic events and the Good Counsel graduates of these years probably experienced a sort of mystic bonding with what was happening to their country at a particular moment in time.

A third way to define a class is through association with a significant member. Thus, 1966 graduates might well identify themselves through association with Al Checchi ('66), who graduated from Harvard, become President of Northwest Airlines and later campaigned to be Governor of California. Checchi has given much back to Good Counsel and played a major role in the funding of the Performing Arts Center in Olney as well as the Auxiliary Gym in Wheaton.

Graduates from 1988 may reflect upon a great era of Good Counsel basketball. Led by future NBA star and union representative Roger Mason Jr., GC teams were nationally-ranked and the Wheaton gym was full of noise and excitement with fans sometimes being turned away at the door. Roger has also given back by running summer programs for youth at the school and remains the polite and caring person I first met years ago.

Graduates from 2009-2012 were treated to a dominant era of GC Football, during which the squad coached by Bob Milloy won four straight league championships, achieved the top area high school ranking by the Washington Post, and appeared several times on featured games televised on ESPN. Along with such distinguished alumni, there have been a number of deaths that helped to define a class, none more so than Becca Lilly of the class of 1998. Becca had battled brain cancer through her years at Good Counsel and, by the spring of her junior year, Becca and her family were reconciled to accepting her death. The Post ran a multi-part story about Becca's final months and her memorial service in the school gym stood out as an impressive example of the lessons Becca offered our community—not only how to face death with dignity, but also how to make the most of the opportunities we are given.

A final way in which some seniors have left their mark on Good Counsel has been through pranks in their closing weeks of high school. The most talked about prank took place when members of the class of 1985 took apart and then reassembled two Volkswagens in the school library. But there have been many other bizarre pranks, including moving the giant statue of Bob's Big Boy from the Wheaton restaurant to the school campus, exchanging roles (and uniforms) with the girls from Holy Cross, setting loose a score of young chicks in the band room, and moving every student desk onto the science wing roof. A version of this article traces back to 1991 and became a creative way for me to end the school year. In 1998, it was a feature talk on the senior retreat, with Springsteen's music helping to capture each year at Good Counsel. Normally seniors volunteered specific memories of their time at Good Counsel.

Think back to the difficult challenges of being a freshman in a new environment. Then think about how you persevered and grew into adulthood. Good Counsel probably played some role in this process and some of you have formed a special bond with the school. Maybe you connect through a strange prank, a special classmate, a historical event or a way your class was the first or the last to do something of significance. The Good Counsel experience means many different things to different people, but I sincerely hope your high school years have left you with something worthwhile to hold onto.