Oak Park and River Forest High School’s annual Tradition of Excellence honor recognizing alumni normally doesn’t have a theme associated with it. But if there was one for this year’s honorees, it would be “excellence in music.”

2008 recipients Paul Broucek and Joe Cantafio were honored last Thursday at the 26th annual dinner and spoke to students during a morning assembly on Friday.

Cantafio, a 1973 graduate, is a rock singer and songwriter, performing for more than 30 years, including for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. He performed during the Friday assembly for students who were dancing in the aisles. Broucek, a 1970 OPRF graduate, is a former executive vice president of music for New Line Cinema, working on such films as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rush Hour and Austin Powers. He currently has his own production company in Los Angeles.

Broucek, a second-generation OPRF alum-his father having graduated in 1925-recalled his four years at OPRF. The Oak Park native was a student during the school’s expansion, telling students how he and his classmates made the steps just outside the auditorium their hang-out spot.

“What I really want to tell you is that it all started here at Oak Park High School. My last few years that I was here, we had the benefit of this auditorium and those wonderful steps outside here. You all probably have your areas where you guys congregate at lunchtime. My group was right outside on those steps, and a lot of dreams and plans were hatched right here,” said Broucek, telling students that he was influenced by his friends as much as adults.

“You learn from your teachers, from your parents and your books in your classrooms, but take a look around you-you guys learn from each other.”

Broucek also encouraged students to ask people for their help in becoming a success: “If you want to be something, model somebody who’s already doing it successfully,” he said.

Cantafio took to the stage with his guitar, talking briefly about his time at OPRF-his wife was a Huskies cheerleader-before performing. He formed his first band, a Beatles tribute group, while a student at OPRF. He renamed the group Jade, playing Top 40 hits at high school functions and around town. At an oldies music event at OPRF in 1973, two of Cantafio’s teachers encouraged the group to perform. That inspired him to reform the group as Jade 50s, touring nationally after high school as a 1950s rock and roll band.

“It was a great time here,” Cantafio said of OPRF. “I started on those same steps as Paul started on, playing proms and homecomings.”

A Chicago native who later moved to Oak Park with his family, Cantafio last Friday used the same guitar he’s performed with for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. After the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks, he put together a musical tour to raise funds for victims, including a performance at OPRF in 2002.

His short set last Friday included a rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” Students danced and broke out into chants of “Obama, Obama.” They cheered for an encore, and Cantafio ended his performance and the assembly with U2’s “With or Without You.”

Join the discussion on social media!