An OPRF alum recalls his experiences 20 years out

Opinion

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Carl Nyberg

It the time, attending high school in the 1980s was defined by the contrast with attending elementary school in the '70s. Elementary school and the '70s were not a happy time for me. My family moved to Oak Park in September, 1973. I started the year with the kindergartners, but was moved to first grade because I already knew the alphabet and an important word that rhymes with "truck." I went from being the oldest, most advanced kid in kindergarten to the youngest?#34;and one of the smallest?#34;in first grade and a member of the lowest reading group.

The '70s were violent and much of the fighting had a racial dynamic. I remember the other kids chanting "a fight, a fight, a black and a white" to one of my after-school fights. The tense and often violent world I experienced contrasted with the idealism propagandized by adults, e.g. the movie Free to Be You and Me. I saw the hypocrisy and noticed the authorities not living up to their ideals.

In grade school I never felt like I was an insider. My parents declining to own a television for our early years in Oak Park contributed to this feeling. I also felt turmoil thrust upon me by the school system. This was caused by redistricting the grade schools (1976), the threat of a teachers' strike and attending classes at OPRF because of "Life Safety" improvements to Beye School (1977). We had to go to the bathroom in pairs to be safe from the predatory high schoolers. Additionally, my family moved within Oak Park (1976), and I had the misfortune of picking a series of friends who moved. Adam S., whom I befriended in fifth grade, was the first friend I had for more than a couple years.

Life at Hawthorne Junior High School got better. And high school seemed downright liberating. I had more stability in my friendships. There was more freedom to move and pick classes. When I did get in fights, it seemed like I had some choice in the matter instead of having the situation thrust upon me. I also shifted from mostly fighting black to mostly fighting whites.

At OPRF, the first extra-curricular activity I joined was the math team. It seemed to be fate that the coach, Glenn Gabanski, was also my "A" period (homeroom) teacher. My friends and I mostly played games in our free time, Dungeons & Dragons, Diplomacy, etc. I achieved leadership positions in the Science Fiction Club and founded the Games Club with Dan Pless.

By high school the black students were almost entirely segregated out of the honors classes. I took honors classes for math and science, but not English and history. I didn't continue with Spanish past freshman year, so I had more electives. I'm still glad I took consumer auto with Bob Gauger and radio with Wayne Krass. I enjoyed the classes, and they were actually practical when I served in the Navy.

I clicked with a few other classes. In Dick Bonney's geometry class, I discovered I had a knack for insights, although I never cracked Rubik's Cube. Bonney and Art Fredricks also designed a curriculum to prepare students for the first computer science AP test. I took the classes with many of my friends. We all aced the AP test. Diane Winchester's expository writing class showed me I had a talent for writing. I enjoyed the creative process and the positive feedback. But after getting some positive feedback, I didn't see the importance of pushing myself to get better. In addition to my personal quirks I was probably suffering from a combination of depression and senioritis.

I started dating in high school. Kari Richards was on the math team with me and lived two blocks away. She first caught my eye in junior high when she was about a foot taller than me. By the time we dated, I was almost as tall. She graciously slouched slightly when we were put back-to-back. Kari moved to California in February of my junior year. We maintained a relationship by post for almost a year. She returned to Oak Park for six weeks that summer of 1984.

Senior year I dated and went to prom with Moira McDonald. One day Moira brought me to Michael Averbach's Human Affairs Club. When Averbach learned Moira was dating me, his reaction indicated he thought Moira was dating someone beneath her. I guess I should have taken his AP American history class ... or maybe not.

One post-high school incident caused me to understand how my Oak Park experience had been different. The U.S. Naval Academy put me into a new culture. I attributed the difference to the large numbers of jocks. I figured if I hung with mostly football players at OPRF it would have been more culturally similar to my experience at Canoe U.

Spring of my senior year I was playing slow-pitch softball. Most of the guys on the team were other seniors from my company. Thirty of us had lived together for three years, so we knew each other pretty well.

Randy asked Ted for some advice on dating. Part of what made this incident shocking was that Ted was one of the nicest guys in 25th Company. A big guy from western Pennsylvania he had a "live and let live" approach to surviving the Boat School. He supported me when I was being hassled for conformity issues.

Randy asked Ted if he should take back his ex-girlfriend. The issue that concerned Randy was that she'd dated a black guy when they were separated. Ted responded, "No way."

I interjected, "You're kidding, right?" This led to others joining a discussion where I was debating everybody. The incident crystallized that I really came from a place different from most of the country.

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