AlumniReunionsClass of 1969 50 Year Reunion /  Dennis Verhaegen '69 Reflection

Dennis Verhaegen '69 Reflection on the Prep

I want to thank Father Devron and the Fordham Prep administration for hosting this reunion today.

Thanks to our Class Committee for granting me the honor and the privilege of addressing you.

I also want to thank the University for hosting us in such a beautiful and sacred space.

When I thought about what I would say today, the first two things that came to my mind was the Prep’s academic excellence and its Ignatian tradition. These are the two pillars of the Prep that are as true today as it was at the Prep’s founding.

Today, however, I would like to address my remarks to three other characteristics that I believe were not only true for me, but also for most of our class.

First, Fordham Prep was the beginning of a brand new world for most of our class – a world vastly different than the world we grew up in because entering the Prep meant that we were going to attend college.

This, in and of itself, meant that we would have a new and exciting future with many more opportunities than our parents and grandparents.

Wherever our paths would take us – be it college, graduate school, law school or medical school – it all began at the Prep.

And the Prep prepared us well for that journey.

Second, Fordham Prep was a tough place. There were no awards for participation. You either succeeded or you didn’t.

I am sure that all of you remember what was said at that first Freshman assembly. “Gentlemen, look right and look left because at the end of the year one of you is not going to be here.” Realistically, it was one of out of every 6 that would not finish freshman year, but that ratio would not have had the same chilling effect on a 13 year old.

But out of that cauldron of academic excellence, discipline and Ignatian tradition, we became men with a certain quality. Some call it grit. I prefer the term resilience. To use a baseball analogy, we learned at a very young age that life was not all fastballs down the middle. There would be many curveballs, sliders and even an occasional knuckleball in life.

Fordham Prep prepared us to hit those pitches too.

My final point is that through all this, we bonded. And in that vein, I would like to share with you a very personal story.

Almost 10 years ago to the day, I was admitted to Sloan Kettering hospital in New York. The admitting nurse suggested that my wife bring some pictures to remind me of why I was going through all this. We all knew that some of the times ahead were going to be rough. Before I could utter a suggestion to my wife, she said that she knew exactly what I needed. The next day she brought three pictures and hung them on the bulletin board. She asked me how she did, and I said, “Perfect.”

Over the next five weeks, new nurses and doctors would come by the room and look at the three pictures. They would nod at the first; smile or chuckle at the second; and be confused by the third.

The first picture was of my family at my son’s high school graduation the year before. What you would expect. The second picture which always elicited the chuckle was of my two dogs playing in my backyard. But the third picture was the mystery. No one knew why that picture was there with the other two.

For who were all those middle aged men of different shapes and sizes in that third picture?

That picture, ladies and gentlemen, was a picture of those members of my class that attended the 40th Prep reunion just a few days earlier.

I could not attend that reunion but someone had been kind enough to distribute the photo to the class. And over the next five weeks, whenever I received a question about who were the men in that picture, I would always answer with the same two words, “My brothers.”

Thank you very much and thank you Lord God.    

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