I saw a young girl in the Rockingham Mall in Salem, New Hampshire. She was wearing a tee shirt that said 'Poteris Modo Velis' and the Fay School logo. In a flash, this glimpse started me on a mental and physical journey, back 50 years.
I started to recall what life was like at the school where I was entombed a half century ago. Trapped there as a boarder by warring parents, it was in some ways my last chance at getting myself onto an academically productive path.
This revitalization of ancient memories led me to realize that in a few months, it would be 50 years since I had graduated from Fay. I realized that there is only ever one 50th reunion, so I made up my mind to attend.
When I got to campus, I did not have any delusions about finding my old desk with my initials carved in it or my first year dorm room. I knew that the wonderful building where these landmarks existed had succumbed to rot and deterioration decades ago. I expected Fay to be very different, but would there be anything left of the Fay I knew?
The first stop of our tour was the dining hall. Aside from new tables, it was exactly as I remembered it. Yes, students still waited on tables. The chimes that herald announcements are still there. The entrance to the kitchen, with its stainless steel serving counters, is exactly the same as when I had waited on tables myself. I think I must have set a record for dropping trays full of dirty dishes!
The tour continued though new buildings that were all of more modern construction than my memories. Fay spirit throughout, colors red and white abounding. Very inspiring and intellectually stimulating. But totally unfamiliar, bringing back no memories of my time at Fay.
Next we visited the Harris Theater. When I was singing in operettas at Fay, this was the Harris Gym, and what a wonderfully modern athletic facility it was! But time had made it outdated and obsolete, so the school repurposed it as the core of a new structure. The rafters, interior ceilings, and wood floor were enough to trigger some of my memories.
Next we visited the Reinke building. Despite its dated rooflines, the contents of that building are amazing, reflecting a wonderful commitment to creativity and design: rooms of workshops where students can actually construct real things with their hands, where ideas become real and have physical dimensions and mass.
Along the way, our tour guide explained that many Fay traditions persist. The students are still divided into competing Red and White color teams. There are still ratings, the highest of which is Primus, earned by academic achievement. I was wearing my Primus pin today. I had worked hard for it 50 years ago; I figured I deserved to wear it one more time!
After visiting the Art Center, we walked upstairs and came into what was the 'old gym.’ Now the smell of ancient varnish was starting to stimulate memories. This great athletic facility of ancient teams was used primarily during my time at Fay for the viewing of 16mm versions of great Hollywood classics. I remember Saturday nights when the boarders would fill this room, munching on candy purchased from the Spa underneath the main building.
I quickly found the plaque commemorating the football team of 1968, my year. With a bit more searching I found my graduating class photo and my own face peering back at me from 50 years ago.
But the best was yet to come...
In the corner of the old gym there is a door with a sign that reads “Mechanical Room – Maintenance Use Only.” I commented that when I was at Fay, that door led to a small room that housed the Radio Club.
We went in and took a look. No, the radios were not still there, but the memories certainly were. I explained to the other members of our tour how this small room was the starting point of my professional career. I explained how there was a teacher named Charles Wood who had his Ham Radio license, and how a classmate and I became interested in Ham Radio and earned our own radio licenses.
They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. The teen years are that magic period when that amount of time can be devoted to any special interest. I spent my teenage free time trying to build radios and trying to make my ham radio station work.
I explained to the others how the spark that lit up my young mind in this room had carried me on in life after Fay to an interest in radio and electronics. By the time I went to college, I had taught myself enough circuit theory that I didn't need to take any electronics courses. After college, I enjoyed a 35-year career as an electrical engineer for Hewlett-Packard and Philips Electronics, designing medical ultrasound systems.
One of my reasons for returning to Fay is that I think it is important to see things from different points of view. I had certainly experienced Fay as a student in the 60s, a time that was both rewarding and growth-filled, as well as spotted with anxiety and fear. It was not always easy being a Fay student back then.
But now, I get to look at Fay from a different perspective. Over time, Fay has survived, grown, and flourished, managing to keep the best things from 50 years ago and more, while adding great new traditions of excellence. It is symbolic that the building where I sat at a desk bolted to the floor finally became unserviceable. That building had to be torn down, just as some of the old attitudes and methods had to be discarded. In their place are new buildings and new concepts, but at the same time, Fay has kept those traditions that worked so well: color teams, effort grades, and ratings.
You Can If You Will.
I'm so glad I came back to see the evolution. Fay has become a wonderful place. I truly wish I could be a student again at today's Fay!