Fifty-three years ago today, I graduated from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School (CD) near Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
At our 50th class reunion in Jim and Beth Styer’s barn, we remembered our junior class play, The Diary of Anne Frank, as uncommonly significant. [In those years, the 11th graders put on a banquet and play for the graduating class; afterwards the play was staged again for the public.]
Before Anne Frank, I’d memorized and recited Scripture for Spring Day, but I’d never had a major role in a play – nor have I since. Somehow I landed the role of Mrs. Frank, with my friend Joyce playing the lead as Anne.
This substantial play put us in touch with the longings of a teenage girl who kept a diary while her Jewish family hid in Amsterdam during World War II. Being in the cast brought out the best in me and introduced me to some of the pain of the world. Plus, we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company during the rehearsals!
I remember scouting out thrift shops with my Mom to purchase a suitable off-white shawl. I kept it and occasionally wore it for at least 30 years, until it fell apart. I also recall searching for a menorah – not a common object in our mostly “Christian” town. I finally located one in a jewelry store. I told the proprietor my Dad was an owner of the feed mill just around the corner, thus convincing him to lend it to us for the play if we gave him credit in the program.
As we recalled this play at our 50th reunion, it struck us that The Diary of Anne Frank was a daring choice for class sponsor and play director Janet Martin to make. The “acting edition” of the play had only been available for 6 years, and surely dealt with more serious subject matter than usual for high school drama. The horror of the Jewish experience during the war was still fresh in the mid-1960’s. We commended Miss Martin, a guest at our reunion, for selecting such a play.
My nephew Gerry, 12 years old at the time, attended the public performance with his family. He told me a few years ago that he had never seen a “live” play before Anne Frank. It stuck with him, as it certainly has with me.
As a grade 11 student testing my gifts, I stretched myself and gained confidence by acting in a major role. I was the right age to have my world broadened by the suffering of teenagers caught in horrendous political circumstances. This was tempered, of course, by the hope conveyed in Anne’s famous quote: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
At an alumni event several years ago I said this about my high school experience: “CD gave me a safe place to belong as a Mennonite girl. The school expanded my world and helped me explore what a person of Christian faith has to offer. It gave me outstanding teachers who drew out the best in me as I gravitated toward history, English and social studies.
“CD fostered in me a love of stories. It honoured my early attempts to express myself in writing, as I began to find my own voice and to believe I had something to say. ”
My Diary of Anne Frank experience symbolizes all that formation and more.
Questions for Reflection:
- In what ways was your high school experience formative for you?
- Is there a particular involvement or event that symbolizes this for you?
Next week: TBA