I was driving home one day years ago, listening to the Albany public radio station, and they were talking about some former mayor of Albany — I didn’t catch the whole story — but someone said that this guy, although he went to “racist institutions like Groton” was not actually a racist at all.
That got my goat. I phoned them and informed them that the Revered John Crocker, headmaster of Groton School, placed himself in harm’s way marching shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King Jr., and that the admissions policy of the school reflected the same commitment to civil rights.
“Are you a Groton graduate?” they asked.
“No,” I said. “I was expelled.”
To their credit, they ran a retraction.
Groton School has been accused of being elitist, but it was where Franklin Delano Roosevelt received his education, so that’s a pretty hard case to make.
It’s true the last line of the Groton School Hymn, written by Phillips Brooks, is “And make our Father’s business ours.” No one could fail to notice the amusing transposition of the apostrophe.
But for those of us who went there, the experience was utterly and completely egalitarian. We were a bunch of kids who were used to being first in our class, and we were talking to kids whose depth of knowledge made our jaws drop.
It was like the kid who has become a musician on their own meeting a kid from a family of musicians. Know what I mean?
Our famous classmate Walter Russell Mead III never took a European history course at Groton, but he took the SAT and got a perfect score, 800. Walter had studied at a “public” (meaning private) school in England.
And even Walter met his intellectual equals, like Bill Gannett and David Moskowitz and John Alsop, and many others I could name.
In a school of about 200 students, everybody knew each other well. Put it this way: Each student had maybe an average of seven to ten neckties. If any one student had put on someone else’s tie, everybody would say, “Hey why are you wearing so-and-so’s tie?”
You couldn’t expect to get away with anything in that type of situation, so you really had to be yourself, and if you didn’t know who that was, you had to find out.
I just spent a beautiful Sunday morning with three Groton School classmates, and I have to say, this is the best way in the world to remember what it was like back when I was 14 years old and was deciding who I was and who I wanted to be.
We’re going to have our 40th reunion this spring, and I’m sure that will be lots of fun. But I’m going to go beyond that and arrange more impromptu gatherings with my Groton buddies.
We knew each other so well when we were 14, better than we’re likely to know almost anyone else ever again. It seems a shame not to catch up every once in a while.