High School Heroes, Villains and a Speech to Remember

The Abington High School graduation ceremony of 1970 was a tumultuous affair, marked by protests and conflict. (You can read about it in my book Some Way Outa Here.) It was an amazing day, summing up the triumphs and tragedies not just of high school, but of a generation that was entangled in battles far beyond the school’s doors.

At the 1970 graduation ceremony, rebellion was in the air. College students had been gunned down by soldiers, weeks earlier, and the Vietnam draft hung over the heads of graduating seniors.

One memorable speech by a remarkable educator, Allan Glatthorn, bears rehearing. We didn’t know it, but it was his farewell to the school.

Abington was then a 4000-student high school, split into two separately administered buildings. It was bigger than many colleges. Some students flourished in pockets of inspiration, while others became lost or disillusioned amid an assembly line education. There were some amazing teachers, some who were less stellar, and even an English teacher named Bill Gavin, who left the school to craft some of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew’s most divisive, hateful speeches.

Like any other school, Abington had teachers and administrators who inspired students, and others who earned their wholehearted contempt. Principal Dr. Glatthorn led Abington to public notice in the 1960s by developing an innovative independent study-based curriculum for the ninth and tenth grades. After that, his efforts to build a more progressive public high school were undermined by conservative administrators and school board, but he fought the good fight at Abington.

Here is his speech, in its entirety:

Address to Graduating Students and Guests , Dr. Allen A. Glatthorn,  June 14, 1970

I say goodbye to you, the class of 1970, with sadness—sadness because I shall miss the zest you brought to our school—and sadness because you enter a world torn by violence from both the left and the right.

For these are strange days, when men commit the vilest deeds for the noblest purposes.

They lie for the sake of truth, practice tyranny in the name of democracy, and wage war in the name of peace.

And the greatest danger in our society today is from all those who commit evil in the name of good.

While man can always find good reasons for the evil he does, the harmful act is no less painful because it was done for our supposed good.

So I call upon you today, not so much to dedicate yourselves to noble causes but instead to commit the good act.

Seek not to commit injustice in the name of justice, nor to repress dissent in the name of freedom. Neither commit violence for the sake of peace, nor hate in the name of love.

And reject the flamboyant gesture.

But choose instead the simple virtues that will surely draw us together—kindness, gentleness, tolerance, and love.

So go in peace, with love in your hearts.

A sick world waits for your healing touch.

His speech was delivered amidst flamboyant gestures – students, myself included, used the occasion to protest the war and the military draft that would soon claim the lives of some of our classmates. It was loud and briefly colorful, but Dr. Glatthorn provided a somber note.

Not long after our graduation, Dr. Glatthorn was forced out.

To his credit, he began work that led to the founding of an alternative high school. It featured a level of academic freedom and opportunity that was unknown at Abington. The school, Alternative East, fulfilled the vision of a group of students working through the Suburban Action Center in 1969-70. (More on this, too, in Some Way Outa Here.)

Dr. Glatthorn’s commencement address is still relevant today. There are still hypocrites and charlatans out there, and a demagogue who seeks to lead the country into the abyss. We would do well to keep Glatthorn’s words in mind.

* * *

I discovered a copy of Glatthorn’s speech after I finished my book about that year, Some Way Outa Here – too late to include. But The book recounts two memorable speeches by students that were also profoundly moving, and worth remembering.

I would be delighted to hear from others who remember that day.

Abington High School 1970

2 thoughts on “High School Heroes, Villains and a Speech to Remember

  1. Dr. Alan Glatthorn, brilliant, principled, anti-Vietnam War principal of Abington High School in the ’60s, not only went on to establish an Alternative High School after his stressful years in the Abington School District. The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Education scooped him up where he could really become influential as a teacher of teachers. I interrupted him on that campus one day in a phone booth (remember those?) in the early ’70s to pay my respects and engage in a short but very uplifting conversation, as was always the case with Dr. Glatthorn. He truly was a great man. May his memory be an inspiration.
    Jonathan Harmon, Abington 1970

  2. Thank you for sharing Dr. Glatthorn’s speech. I remember the “flamboyant gestures” at our graduation ceremony which included peace symbols on graduation caps, armbands of protest, and some students giving a Black Power salute after receiving their diploma. While not many showed up at our 45th reunion last year. I remember some of my fellow classmates (with over 900 in our graduating class it wasn’t possible to know everyone), like Mark and his sister Chris with whom I shared homeroom for all four high school years. Went to college in Ohio that August, not long after the Kent State incident, when college students did sit-ins at campus buildings amidst guys back from Vietnam coming to college on the GI Bill, and watching the posting of draft numbers by birthdate in the student union. It was a different time. But Dr. Glatthorn’s words and warning fit today’s climate as they did then. Thanks for the memories. Looking forward to reading your book, Mark.

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