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Aisle Seat: Remembrance of High Schools Past

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

The author in 10th grade
The author in seventh grade

My good friend Nona has been nudging me

to post on Cheltenham High School

Class of 1971’s

Facebook page.

She’d like me to pen

a reflective, recollected summation

of my life and career

so other classmates could catch up.

That is, if they remember me at all.

Nona and I have been buds for decades,

having met in second grade.

She’s extremely task-oriented

and knows how to make the wheels turn

on any project she gets into.

Except in this case,

I’d prefer not to,

as Bartleby, the Scrivener famously said

in Melville’s book of the same name.

A three-day celebration had been planned

for last month.

Nona and classmate Neil worked doggedly

to land a jazzy, cool place to gather

for a long Philadelphia weekend.

Covid-19 put the kibosh on good intentions.

The reunion is now scheduled

for next October

in an equally swell venue.

Nona’s been sweetly requesting folks

to recap a life in 400 words.

Not really my thing.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

I hate disappointing my loyal buddy.


I really don’t belong in that group,

since Cheltenham was not technically

where I spent senior year.

For 12th grade, I attended

Philadelphia’s Parkway Program,

the nation’s first “school without walls.”

That non-structured “school”

may have been without a main edifice,

but there was a method to the madness

of unleashing self-motivated kids

onto the streets of Philadelphia.

No need for the particulars.

Cheltenham High School

was an overachiever’s dream/nightmare.

So many electives!

The school had everything:

excellent teachers (albeit a tad conservative);

a television studio, planetarium

and indoor swimming pool were icing.

Students overdosed on competition,

driven by grade-focused teachers.

Before Parkway,

I went to an inner-city high school

that was as awful as the ones on television shows.

I was randomly punched in the head.

And devastated by a friend’s heroin overdose.

Why did I go to dangerous Olney High

for 11th grade?

Because my mother moved us

from Cheltenham’s privileged school district

into Philadelphia’s jurisdiction.

When I won the Parkway lottery

to attend senior year,

I felt like a million bucks.

But for all other grades,

from kindergarten through 10th,

I was a legit Elkins Park resident.

So I do have every right to attend the 50th, if I

am so inclined.

At the height of the pandemic,

Nona played matchmaker

and suggested reconnecting

with my school pal Jane.

It was a suggestion I couldn’t refuse.

That led to a biweekly CHS Zoom group invite.

We share grievances, regrets

then move on

to current events and the like.

Lately we’ve been dishing

on our collective high-school romances

or lack thereof.

I’m grateful to Nona,

who is a powerful instigator, mover and shaker.

And a wonderful forever friend confidante.

If she wants a post from me, so be it.

But I’d rather not detail achievements

and career moves.

The thought of writing about them

bores me to tears.

Why should I subject fellow alumni

to my tedious employment history?

I’d much rather reminisce about being a mother,

of which I’m most proud.

Some of my playgroup’s moms

bemoaned side-tracked careers.

It was the ‘80s,

when women felt conflicted

about pausing a career

to raise kids.

I wasn’t conflicted.

Motherhood gave me the opportunity

to do the opposite of how I was raised.

And that’s virtually how my kids were parented.

They turned out pretty, pretty good.

As for my attending the rescheduled reunion,

If all goes well, I’ll be there.

It would be outstanding to see

high school Zoom-mates in the flesh.

And should a fellow alum need or want details

of my career path,

just ask Nona.


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including

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