MAUHS 1968 graduates remember concerns, hopes
BENNINGTON — As juniors in high school in 1967, Linda Oslizlo and Mary Dermody got the shock of their school careers.
Bennington Catholic High School was closing — they were going to attend the new Mount Anthony Union High School for their senior year, along with Bennington High School and North Bennington High School students.
Their former classmate, Mary Jepson, would be there too — she had spent her first two years at Catholic High before transferring to Bennington High School.
Cross-town rival schools would come together, and adjust to a new building, teachers and classmates at the same time.
"It was really devastating," said Dermody, recalling the announcement in March 1967.
Students at Catholic High had traditionally been asked for their input on things, and been told their opinions mattered.
But when it came to the school closing, they weren't.
"And yet, these adults just came in and said, your school's closing. And we had no say in any of it," Dermody said. "There wasn't any counseling given to any of the high school kids on how to deal with this ... now all of a sudden, we're expected to come together and have a senior year and be the leaders of this school with no guidance."
From that devastation and confusion came a school experience they routinely celebrate at high school reunions every five years, including this Saturday's 50th reunion at the Elks Lodge for their class — the first to graduate from the then-new MAUHS building in 1968.
This reunion, 162 people are set to attend, including about 10 teachers and their spouses.
Going from a small high school with an "incredible safety net," to a large regional school was difficult for many people, Dermody said.
"We were comparing it to going away to college," she said. "Having freedoms that we never had."
Many students skipped school — which no one did at Catholic High, because everyone knew who you were.
Dermody remembered concerns in the beginning, with rivals Bennington High School and Bennington Catholic school playing sports together.
"Now they had to come and play as a team," Oslizlo recalled.
At the first pep rally as a new team, as the players were announced, Dermody and her others didn't cheer as loudly for those who had played at Bennington High as they did for their own former players.
"I remember our guys from Catholic High coming over and taking us to task, saying, 'we are all one class, and you will cheer for everybody,'" she said. "For me, that was a big turning point ... that yes, we are one class."
Jepson, who had already met some of her new classmates the previous school year at Bennington High School, remembered the transition fondly.
"We were in a new building, and I can remember sitting in the blue chairs in the auditorium the first day thinking,
'Wow this is great, look at this place, it's so beautiful,'" she said. "And I loved it."
At the new school, Dermody said, they had opportunities to take classes that had never been offered before, with facilities they hadn't had.
"Even our science labs," Oslizlo said. "We wouldn't have had labs like that at Catholic High."
Dermody remembered the French tests she took with headphones playing audio of a person speaking in French.
Some classes caused more concern.
"One of the big worries, frankly, was phys ed," Dermody remembered.
That hadn't been a requirement at Catholic High.
"They were the ugliest blue uniforms — at 17, what are girls worried about?" she said. "They were those ugly blue one-piece short jumpsuit bloomery-things."
The three attribute the closeness of their high school class to what they went through together — not just moving to a new building and coming together, but the events that surrounded their experiences as children and young adults.
They experienced history in the form of the Vietnam War, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassinations, the air-raid drills.
"We had lived through all that," Jepson said. "I think that made us stronger."
"I do think that we forged some incredible bonds," she said. "Even though it was devastating in the beginning, it made us stronger."
The experience of coming together in one building bonded the class together, as the first class to graduate from that building, Jepson said.
"There are things that we share with our classmates that they know about us that even our families don't know, or can't understand," Dermody said.
And graduates of the class of 1968 have done some incredible things, Dermody said.
She recalled one student who was a Rhodes Scholar, and another, the class president, who is a playwright in California.
They've lost 49 students from their class thus far, some tragically.
"They're part of our lives," Dermody said. "As we lose members of our class, it's like we're losing members of our family."
At this year's reunion, they plan to carry candles for those who've died, in addition to reading off their names in remembrance, which they do every reunion.
"Strangely enough, we didn't lose anybody in Vietnam," Dermody said.
They knew about major events in the outside world, but at the same time, Bennington was largely their whole world.
"We were still teenagers," Dermody said. "My biggest concern was going to prom."
There was no real rivalry or fighting as they struggled through a new schedule and new building, realizing they were all in it together.
"People wanted to get to know each other," Jepson said. "[We thought] let's make this year —"
"— As good as we can do," Dermody finished. "I think we leaned on each other, because it was a new building. Nobody knew where they were going."
Every 15 minutes, bells rang, and no one knew where they were supposed to be.
The first week, the air-conditioning was broken, the heat was on and the fire alarms kept going off.
"It almost was a blessing that all that stuff happened, because you had to laugh about [it]," Dermody said. "You were all in it together."
The class was able to put their differences aside and share what as a great time — together.
"Push came to shove, anybody — we'd be there in a heartbeat if somebody needed something," Dermody said. "And that's a wonderful feeling, to know that they have your back."
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
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