In the Simplest Terms, or the Life of Brian (Johnson)


It was John Hughes movie night with Nick a couple of months back. I couldn’t believe he was about to graduate high school and had never seen some of the beloved coming of age movies. We picked up National Lampoon’s Vacation with Rusty, Anthony Michael Hall, and then segued into The Breakfast Club where we saw him a bit grown. John Hughes really did tell some great high school stories. Who can forget the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal?

I was transported to my own high school experiences, about 5 years before this movie was released.  I didn’t need a Zimbio quiz to find out which character I was, it was very evident. 1978. My friends and I were heading to Burnet Park for Senior Skip Day, but instead of the beer my friends procured at the corner store up near the park, or the pot (I never did know where it came from), I bought my 2 cans of root beer in a paper bag and walked into the woods for a day of goofing off. Nerd? Goody Two-shoes? You betcha.

High school in the late 70’s was a good life. I was on the ‘smart’ track in school and was friendly with the other kids in those classes, but my friends were from the inner city neighborhood I lived in, and we were loyal. Don’t get me wrong, there was drama and gossip and infighting, but overall they were some of the most supportive people I could have been with at that time. In the group were brains, athletes, basket cases, criminals, and even a princess or two.

Last week a story ran in our hometown newspaper about my high school closing it’s doors after 40 troubled years. Since it opened in 1975, George W Fowler High School has been plagued with infrastructure and financial problems, and problems with the students, many who are poverty stricken and face violence every day of their lives, both in school and at home.

So many times over the years I would see someone’s face change when I would proudly state I had graduated from Fowler. They would look at me with pity or surprise or even contempt. I will say this, I had some talented teachers and fun friends and great memories. Yes, our alma mater was cheesy (written to the tune of Elvis’ Love Me Tender) and we may not have had a marching band to cheer our sports teams on. I never even knew about what a homecoming weekend was all about. But we have spirit and drive and determination (OK, you caught me. I was a cheerleader.) G. W. Fowler High School gave me a great start, ultimately earning three different advanced degrees and now I have a productive and amazing life. Fowler grads matter. And today the last class of Fowler will graduate.

I hope that the reincarnation of Fowler will be successful and continue to develop determined, driven students. It will now be known as the Public Service Leadership Academy, with career-focused programs where students will have to apply to attend. Maybe a school with a focused curriculum will be a great rebirth. I have a friend who teaches at ITC (Institute of Technolgy @Syracuse Central), in Syracuse, and he loves teaching the city students. I hope that under Jaime Alicea’s guidance students at PSLA will not just survive, but thrive.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Fowler graduates. Shine and sparkle and do good things. Show people what we are made of. Be good, kind people who do not settle for injustice and the status quo. Be proud. I know I am.


“You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal. Does that answer your question?” – Brian Johnson in The Breakfast Club

2 thoughts on “In the Simplest Terms, or the Life of Brian (Johnson)

  1. Yeah, um… my eyes are wet after reading that end quote. Funny how I remember the name John Bender but had no idea who Brian Johnson was. Thanks to you, I’ll never forget.

    And now, on to the important revelation: you were a cheerleader? I was the yearbook editor, and pissed off all my classmates because I did a movie-themed yearbook — not traditional, not “normal”… always the disrupter… that was me.


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