Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May 22, 1977

On Sunday, May 22, 1977, the world was three days away from the premiere of Star Wars (later known as Episode IV - A New Hope), a movie that changed popular culture and political discourse.

On May 22, 1977, actor Paul Winfield, Harvard theologian Peter Gomes, publisher Sasha Alyson, musician Morrissey, and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk all celebrated their birthdays.

The number one song on the Billboard pop charts was "Sir Duke," by Stevie Wonder. On the country charts, it was "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Laverne & Shirley, set in Milwaukee, was just finishing up its first season on ABC-TV. Milwaukee-born Tom Snyder was hosting The Tomorrow Show late nights on NBC.

Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. Queen Elizabeth II was celebrating the Jubilee Year of her reign (with an Underground line to mark it). Patrick Lucey was governor of Wisconsin, but was soon to accept the post of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, to be succeeded in July by Martin Schreiber. Henry Maier was 17 years into his 28 year ride as Milwaukee's second "singing mayor." William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson were Wisconsin's two U.S. Senators.

And in Milwaukee, the seniors at Marquette University High School were graduated.

Run with military precision by the Reverend John Crowley, S.J., the commencement exercises began promptly at 8:15 p.m. and were finished an hour later, with a student address by Dan Barboriak and a faculty address by Greg Meuler in between, as well as the bestowing of diplomas, one by one, to each of the graduates, by Principal Frank Majka, S.J., and President William Doran, S.J.

To give you a sense of how close-knit the Marquette High community was (and, one would hope, is), by the time Father Majka had finished reading off the names of the 238 new alumni, there were only three people listed whose names were unfamiliar to me. It was difficult to hide in the shadows at MUHS in the 1970s.

Much of this sense of community could be attributed to common action -- the little things we did together.

For instance, the year began with the annual production of Senior Follies, that year called "Blazing Seniors" (based on a class vote; the title had little to do with the show itself). Work on the show actually began late in our junior year, and continued through the summer. (I was privileged to be on the writers' committee that created the script for the revue, which was built on the premise that each scene represented a period in the school day -- homeroom, Latin class, lunch, gym, etc.) Here is some rare film of that production, including rehearsals (this is in two parts, to satisfy YouTube's 10-minute maximum requirement):

Sharp-eyed readers may spot me as Mr. Greenwald, the Latin teacher and astronomy club advisor, who lamented to his class that he had seen a UFO but nobody believed him. (His/my song: "Hey, Has Anybody Seen My Neat UFO?", a parody of the Tony Orlando pop ditty, "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?")

It was for this show -- the one that caused me to fall in love with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd -- that I memorized the world's most lethal joke, in Latin:
Erant duo homines.
Primus vir dixit, "Meus canis habet nullam nasem."
Alius vir rogavit, "Quomodo olfacit?"
Primus vir respondit, "Atrociter!"
Later, a number of seniors (as well as members of other classes and girls from other schools) joined together under the able direction of the Reverend Thomas N. Brennan, S.J., in a production of Frank Loesser's Guys & Dolls. Some of the backstage antics seen in this video may seem incomprehensible to today's high schoolers.

In early May, just a few weeks before graduation, juniors and seniors held their prom and post-prom party. I hosted a pre-prom party at my house. Again, 21st-century sensibilities may be offended by the sight of high-school students smoking and drinking openly. (I wrote about my prom experience earlier in this blog.)

Finally came the big day: Graduation, 1977. Sorry for the poor quality of the video. I did not have the camera in my hands that evening:

It didn't take much digging, but I was able to find the program from the commencement exercises, which includes a list of all the graduates and the various awards and scholarships they received (click to embiggen):

This year, Marquette University High School is marking its 150th anniversary, and the Class of 1977 is gathering for its 30-year reunion. This morning I made a reservation online to attend the festivities on the weekend of July 20-21 in Milwaukee. I hope to see many of my classmates there. One hundred fifty years is a milestone worth celebrating!

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