Heritage alumni remember, reflect

Laura DeWitt ’85 looks at a photo from her time at Heritage. She believes that teenagers in high school today face a lot more pressure than students from her graduating class did. Photo by Rachel DeWitt ’21.

   As the middle of the 2020-2021 school year approaches, Heritage students grow ever closer to putting another year of high school under their belts. Graduating seniors will move on to the next stage in their lives, and current freshmen will begin their journey through high school. Alumni from the class of 1985 discuss how their years in high school shaped their lives and what current students should do to make the most of their experiences.

Reporter: Welcome! So to start it off: what was your favorite memory from Heritage?

John Dominguez ’85: Wow, there’s so many. I think it’s probably when I got my letter jacket when I was a sophomore. I was on the wrestling team, and I think I was the smallest kid in the school, and I got a varsity letter jacket when I was a sophomore so I was very proud of that.

Kerry Roesch ’85: I think the hanging out between classes, and the pit, and the canteens, I think the parties out at C-470, I think the social piece was what I remember I enjoyed most. I liked participating in the theatre as well, and that was a small little piece that felt like my own.

Laura DeWitt ’85: I would say for me, the social aspect, not having to wear a uniform, being able to wear jeans to school, that was a pretty good highlight. I think the sports too; I was on the volleyball and tennis team my sophomore year, so that was a whole new level of sports that I was unaware of and I really enjoyed that.

Kim Brouillette ’85: I remember when I got an eraser thrown at me by the driver’s ed teacher and I was sitting in the back of the class… John were you in that class with me?

John: *laughs* I think I was, probably.

Kim: She whipped an eraser from the front of the room all the way to the back and it hit me in the chest.

Kerry: What did you do to deserve that?

Kim: What did I do? I was talking to someone and all of the sudden it was like “boom!” It got my attention.

John: I think the teacher was throwing the eraser at me but it hit Kim!

Kim: No, it was aimed at me, for sure. That was one of my favorite memories, you know, funny things like that which happened in class.

Reporter: We talked about our favorite memories, but what do you wish you could’ve changed about your experience there? Any small little things like “I wish I would’ve joined more clubs?”

Kim: I probably wish I would’ve done more activities, probably studied a little more. I look at my kids in high school now and I’m trying to think what I tell them, and usually, it’s like “Join more clubs, do more activities, meet more friends,” but we were pretty active.

John: It was a great experience, I don’t think I would want to change it, for me anyway. I agree with you Kim, we all should’ve studied harder, for sure. I think I probably regret not staying in touch with people, not so much my friends, but the staff after Heritage, because they were great, they helped me a lot, I owe them for a lot of the successes and stuff I’ve learned in life. I was talking about wrestling, and we just lost Coach Barron, and he was awesome, he had a huge impact on me when I was younger and on my life and I just regret I didn’t stay in touch with him and a lot of the other teachers. But while we were there, I don’t think I’d change a thing, it was amazing.

Laura: I wholeheartedly agree, I don’t think I would change anything, it was a great experience all around. Possibly, if I had to say, probably study a little bit more.

Kerry: Yeah, I think if I paid attention more, I would be smarter with geography and stuff like that.

Laura: History and geography

Kerry: Yeah, like when I’m playing Trivial Pursuit or the crossword. I remember going to one of the reunions and feeling like I wished I had gotten to know more people. I felt like I kind of stayed in a safe zone so I think I would’ve liked to have been a little bit out of my comfort zone and met more people. It’s like seeing all the people at the reunion and being like “Oh! I remember you, but we never hung out! Why didn’t we hang out?” So I think that’s something I would’ve changed.

The graduating class and the graduation invitation from the year 1985. Students from that graduating class believe that high school is a lot different from when they went to school, especially with the influence of social media. Photo by Laura DeWitt.

Reporter: John, you mentioned how Heritage really taught you some lessons. What did you guys learn from your experiences there?

John: Maybe it was the time we were growing up that was different, it was a great time for us to grow up, things were a lot simpler back then, you know, I think it’s harder being a teenager today, in a weird way, with social media and everything, we didn’t have anything like that, we didn’t even have cell phones. It was a real safe place to explore, I did sports, I did clubs. It was a big school, I think we had 500 kids in our class so we couldn’t know everybody and it was a little bit cliquey, we had groups of kids that would hang out with each other, I guess that’s true always in high school, but it was a lot like that and I regret that I know some people really really well and others I don’t know well at all. However, I don’t know what I could do to change that and it would be hard to change that. But, I got a lot of confidence coming out of Heritage, through sports, academics, teachers, I felt ready when I went to college, I felt that I was ready for college, and when I somehow got out of college, I was ready to take on the world. I think I owe a lot of that to Heritage.

Kim: I think something that was unique for all of us was how that year that we were supposed to go to high school, in our freshmen year, they closed all the high schools for ~3 years and we had to stay in middle school an extra year. So instead of going ninth through twelfth, we went tenth through twelfth, so we were not given as much time to do some of the things like normal people or really do all the things that, if you started as a freshman, you might be able to do. It was interesting because although we only had the three years, I think, we did learn to advocate for ourselves and nobody was checking our grades, there was no Infinite Campus, we knew we had to kind of do this to get this and no one was watching us until the report card came out. I feel like we all kind of knew what to do, we worked hard and played hard and we did everything we were supposed to and we all had jobs too. I think all of us had a job in high school, we all had a sport, we had our club, we had our school and we all worked. We were juggling lots of things. I don’t think the demands, in other words, were as great, we weren’t required to practice our sport year-round to be able to compete.

Laura: Yeah, I think the pressures were a lot less for us than they are today. Today, there’s social media and all that. I think all of us were middle-class, it wasn’t the “haves” and the “have-nots,” everyone was sort of happy with what they had and didn’t want more, there just wasn’t that display of money that there is today, and that’s a lot of pressure on the kids.

Kerry: I feel like I learned how to be independent, I think Kim’s word: advocating for myself, you did have to navigate a lot and I think there was a lot of growing up, especially coming from a parochial school, that weird ninth-grade year at a new school, and then going to another school, you learn quickly how to take care of yourself and I kind of forgot how we all had jobs and it was sort of the “norm” and there wasn’t the same kind of pressure kids have today. I think the biggest takeaway was the independence and being able to navigate and being really prepared for college.

Laura: I think that’s one of the things Heritage does, and still does now, is off-campus. A lot of schools don’t let kids leave the campus and when they get to college, they go a little crazy. So I think being an off-campus school, we did have to manage our time and not go crazy and that prepared us for college.

Kerry: Even the size of the school, navigating through a big group of people, and still getting to know the future and still have success. I think it was a lot of good preparation for college.

Reporter: What did you guys think you learned from Heritage that has taken you through college and your life to this point?

Kim: What’s kind of been relevant in the last five years is how some of us moved away but we all kind of circled back to each other and so there was something that connected us then that still connects us today, and I think that’s really cool. We all liked each other then, we all like each other now.

Laura: It says a lot to the type of friends we chose when we were 18 and it’s those same friends we choose now that we are 50. Maybe we knew how to find people we had things in common with and we were good at choosing friends because we are all still friends.

Kerry: It’s such an interesting experience to have been a young person, going away, and then coming back as an old person and realizing you don’t drift that far from who you are. I feel like “Oh, I left and I was an adult and I moved away and I had a job and life experiences,” but then you come back and you think you’re really different and all grown up now but I was like “Eh, I’m the same person on the inside as I was then.” So it’s been an interesting journey: leaving and then coming back and I’m glad I did, I’m glad I came back, it’s been really fun.

Kim: Yeah, I think one thing that Heritage did teach us too is how to juggle a lot because we did have this campus we could leave, we did have different classes different days of the week, so you had to figure out how to manage your time because then you had activities after school. So you did have to learn how to do time management and I think that carried well later. I think we were all like that, I don’t think any of us were not juggling a lot of things.

John: Yeah, there seems to be a commonality in purpose that everybody had, even in a large school, and when we were there, I think 80% of the kids who graduated would go on to a four-year degree, but even among the kids that did not go into a four-year degree, we were all motivated to work hard. There was a belief that if you worked hard and made an effort, it would pay off. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure around it, even in sports or in academics. You had to do what you were supposed to do and you were motivated to do what you were supposed to do, but there wasn’t all this weight on your shoulders of “What is going to happen? What college am I going to go to?” I think kids today have a lot more anxiety and stress than we did.

Kim: In some ways, things were less strict, we laughed all the time, we chewed gum in class, we passed notes, we farted around a lot, yet we were respectful. It seems like so many things aren’t acceptable anymore and everyone is supposed to behave a certain way, even though we all have personalities and outbursts and it doesn’t feel like all of that is as okay.

Reporter: Kind of along the same lines: how do you think high school has changed since the ’80s, especially with the influence of technology, not considering the pandemic?

Kerry: I don’t have kids but I can’t imagine having the pressure of everything being so recorded and visible, and the expectations, and the pace! I can’t imagine the pace! You were just kind of gone and doing things and you’d do your shift at work or you’d be at lunch and it just seems like it was a simpler time, and it would seem so foreign to me to have that amount of expectation and pressure kids have today. 

Laura: I think the pressure is extreme now on the kids trying to go to college that was not there when we were applying to college. From the time my kids were freshmen it was: “We have to start talking about getting all of our community service hours, we have to have this broad portfolio of sports and activities, and arts, and perfect grades, and take AP classes.” I don’t remember any of that stress when we were applying to colleges. I think my dad just filled out a form and was just like “Here’s your three schools we’ll apply to them and see what happens.” I think the stress on the kids today to get into a good school is insurmountable.

Kim: Yeah, as Kerry was saying, everything was slower, you would take a test and you wouldn’t find out for a week or two what your grade was. Now, everything is loaded to Infinite Campus and things are due at weird times like on Sunday at eight p.m., and keeping track of everything the way you kids do, would be hard. You have to stay on top of things so much faster. 

Laura: Maybe we just forgot it all.

Kim: Maybe we did!

Kerry: And we weren’t as tethered to everything, you didn’t have a constant tether to your parents or your classmates. To decide where you were going to meet up after school, you had to go check the answering machine if you had one at home. That connectedness causes you to be so alert all the time, there’s not this base to just “chill.”

Laura: Definitely, you need that.

Reporter: Do you have any advice on current students on how they can make the most of their time in high school?

Laura: Enjoy it, it goes fast, as you know.

John: Yeah, I’ll say the same thing I say to all young people: take advantage of your relationships and friends that you have and don’t take them for granted. Always keep them close and always be looking to build on those relationships because it matters a lot in life to have a network of friends, and people you can talk to and compare notes with, and people that will cheer you on when you do well, and people you can talk to when you’re not doing so well. That’s probably the biggest gift we got from Heritage: having each other, and it really really matters. So don’t take any of these friendships or relationships, not just with the students, but with the teachers too, for granted.

Kim: I would say: take risks, don’t be afraid to fail and don’t worry about what other people think of you because those things take time, to have confidence in yourself and to kind of know what your strengths and weaknesses are and to try to build on them. I don’t think I was as in-tune with some of that, and that’s just maturing, but I wish I had more of that wisdom imparted on me when I was younger.

Kerry: I would agree, I think there was a lot of energy in high school on self-focus: “What does everyone think of me, what are they going to say, what are they going to see?” So I think giving yourself a break, that you‘re enough as you are, and to respect yourself and the friends you have because it’s really a foundation. You build a lot on your experiences in high school and, of course, it’s a mixed bag, it was not all a pleasure trip for me, maybe because I wasn’t as involved, but I feel like it’s easy to be hard on yourself if it’s not all enjoyable because there’s a lot of stress, and you’re navigating so many things, and you’re making decisions that are big that will decide the rest of your life: where you’re going to school, where you’re going to live. So my advice would be; be very kind to yourself, and respect yourself, and have as many experiences that you feel like that would be enjoyable.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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