Notable alumni reflect on high school experiences
March 15, 2016
Every year, the high school graduates many students. These students journey on, taking the next step in their lives. Many of these individuals become successful, form a family or pursue a dream career. Some Brookline alumni gain local, national or even international renown.
According to various notable alumni from the high school, the high school community and the resources it provided them enabled them to succeed by teaching them crucial skills and lessons that they use in their lives.
Michael Dukakis ’51
Michael Dukakis ‘51 went to Runkle School during first grade, and finished his elementary school education at Baker before transitioning to the high school.
According to Dukakis, there were many different aspects of the high school that he participated in.
“I played three sports, ran the Boston Marathon when I was 17,” Dukakis said. “And was involved in student politics, was on the student council and president of the student council. So, it was a very busy life for me. I loved the school, I loved what I was doing and had a great time there.”
Dukakis also said that he had mentors at the high school who encouraged him to pursue politics. One of these people was his basketball coach John Grinnell, who encouraged him to run for political office one day and who watched him accept the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1988. Another was his French teacher Katheryn O’Brien, who contributed $10 to all of Dukakis’ political campaigns. O’Brien passed away in 1986.
“I got a letter from her sister, who was managing her estate, with a copy of her will, leaving me a thousand dollars with the hope that I would use it to run for the presidency of the United States,” Dukakis said. “It was the first contribution to my presidential campaign. She was terrific.”
As the son of Greek immigrants, Dukakis recognized prejudice and injustice almost everywhere, including in Brookline. According to him, this inspired him to enter politics in order to create change.
“I saw this stuff, and it bothered the hell out of me,” Dukakis said. “Why were people being discriminated? Why couldn’t certain people live in certain communities? What was going on here? And I think that’s the thing that had a lot to do with my getting involved in politics. This obvious injustice that was taking place all over the country, including in Boston. And it was those kinds of things that just really bothered me, and I saw politics as a way to try to change them.”
Dukakis, who now is a professor of political science at Northeastern University, said that he supports young people who may want to enter politics like he did. Dukakis said that the world does have its problems, but it also has great potential.
“There is nothing more personally fulfilling or satisfying than being in a position where you can make a difference in the lives of your fellow citizens,” Dukakis said. “And politics is not the only way you can do that, but it’s a very important way. And if young people have an interest and want to pursue careers in public service, I’m their biggest cheerleader. I hope that they will do that and seek out people like me and others that can help guide them and give them some advice about how to do that.”
In reflection, Dukakis gave Brookline credit for the influence it has had on him.
“It’s really been a great life,” Dukakis said, “and I was fortunate enough to meet a terrific woman and be able to build a big family life, and a lot of this I think had to do with the opportunity that Brookline and its high school gave me, to be able start building that foundation.”
Robert Kraft ’59
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft ‘59, who spoke both at his class’s graduation ceremony and also in 1994 as a speaker at graduation, noted the increases in diversity that the school underwent since he attended it.
“When I came in ‘94 and spoke, I think there were 20-odd languages spoken and the high school was completely different,” Kraft said. “But I’ll tell you, I love Brookline High School. I think the young people who go there are privileged to have it because especially now, the diversified background.”
Kraft participated extensively in student government and was the president of his class senior year. He said that in high school, he gained a sense of what he wanted to do later in his life.
“I knew I wanted to go into business and be an entrepreneur,” Kraft said. “I had an uncle who told me that at a young age he thought I would be a very good businessman, and he said ‘you should set your sights on going to Harvard Business School.’ So, actually when I was in high school, at the end, I started to go over there and visit there and talk to deans there and see what I had to do to be able to go there.”
Kraft said that his high school experiences taught him how to interact with a variety of people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. According to him, these skills are necessary in his international business enterprises, such as International Forest Products LLC.
Though he did not play sports in high school, Kraft said he understands the crucial role sports, such as football, can play in students lives because it instills within them a sense of camaraderie.
“You learn how to be interdependent with people, no matter how good you are,” Kraft said. “Tom Brady can be a great quarterback, but if he doesn’t have a defense that can stop the other team or an offensive line that blocks for him, he can’t throw. And if the special teams don’t perform the way they should, you can lose the game. So, it creates a sense of interdependency, and I think a sport in many ways helps to build community.”
Kraft said that his biggest takeaways from the high school were its community and its teachers, who helped motivate him and challenge him to think out of the box.
Kraft gave advice to students who may want to follow a similar path as he has.
“Don’t give up on your dreams, especially at your age,” Kraft said. “Don’t be afraid to live your dreams and don’t be afraid to fail, because when you’re bold, you’re going to make mistakes. But learn from those mistakes and then build on that experience. In the end, the people who really have success are the people who have mental toughness, and when things don’t go their way, you keep coming back like the tide. The tide goes out. It goes in. It washes things in and out. Just keep coming back when you believe it. Don’t take no for an answer.”
Alan Rachins ’60
According to Golden-Globe and Emmy-nominated actor Alan Rachins ‘60, though he did not pursue extracurricular activities focused on acting while at the high school, he still developed a passion for the craft that culminated into a career.
“Well, I knew since the eighth grade that I wanted to be an actor, but I was not sure if I would have the wherewithall to pursue that,” Rachins said. “So it was something in the back of mind that I wanted to do. A lot of young kids want to play major league baseball, but that doesn’t happen for too many, and I didn’t know if this acting fantasy or dream of mine was going to be in the same category that I’d have to let go of it.”
Rachins also said that he enjoyed the social life at the high school. He went on many adventures with friends, many of whom he still stays in contact with.
“We organized a ski trip and we were away a week skiing, about six of us,” he said. “I think Mount Snow was the first place we went to. A bunch of us went to the Newport Jazz festival and we slept in our cars outside one of those mansions. We just had great times together. It was a great group of people and they all had ideas to contribute and the occasional parties.”
According to Rachins, high school is an important time not only to develop relationships but also to begin to develop an identity.
“For me, I loved it because it’s where I developed a lot of these great friends and got the beginnings of a sense of self and had a sort of an extended family with these friends and took from that some energy to move forward,” Rachins said. “So I think some people really learn who they are in high school.”
In conclusion, Rachins said that he was very glad to interact with a great group of people at the high school. Moreover, he believes that though he had fun with friends, all of them were still focused on college and later life.
“I guess the word is focus,” Rachins said. “If you focus on what it is you want to do, learn about it, ask questions about it, reach out to people to find more about it. So, go after it, you have to go after it and assume that it’s not going to come to you. It requires a lot of work.”
Stephen Kinzer ’69
Veteran New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer ‘69 was a staff member on The Sagamore and also helped publish the first issue of the literary magazine Refractions.
When school administration attempted to crack down on controversial articles in The Sagamore, including an editorial against the Vietnam War, Kinzer and some of his fellow editors quit and produced their own newspaper, The Rapper.
“An article or two that we published were considered unwise or improper by some of the higher ups in the administration and a rule was imposed that the faculty advisor and also the headmaster were going to have to read any questionable articles before they could be published,” Kinzer said. “This produced quite some unhappiness on the part of the staff, and a group of the editors walked out.”
Besides developing passions for Blues music and Shakespeare, Kinzer also began to recognize the importance of journalism and so began to strengthen his skills in this area.
“I learned that people look forward to learning about their environment, and that people who can provide information about the world are valuable interlocutors in any community,” Kinzer said.
Kinzer said that he enjoyed the classes and teachers at the high school, and he still stays in touch with some people from those days. Looking back on his experiences, he said he sees how crucial high school was in his life.
Kinzer also said that the high school gave him an opportunity to interact with different people. Compounded with his study in literature and history, Kinzer said that his career as a foreign correspondent came from these experiences.
“I used to stare at those New York Times bylines when I was a junior,” Kinzer said. “And I developed the idea that maybe one day I could have a byline like that. Sure enough, it happened.”
When asked to give advice to high schoolers, Kinzer stressed the importance of being flexible.
“Don’t focus specifically on a career goal,” Kinzer said. “Focus on broadening your horizons, strengthening your sense of curiosity and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.”
Heidi Berenson ’75
Two-time Emmy and Peabody Award-winner Heidi Berenson saw the high school as a diverse community that helped her prepare for her later career.
“It was a actually a good launchpad for life because the high school was so diverse,” Berenson said. “It had diverse students and teachers and diversity of programs and all different kinds of options. Whatever you were interested in, there was a club or a program or an after school activity or something. And that’s what I loved the most. I loved the diversity of it.”
Berenson also took the journalism course at the high school, and worked on the school newspaper at UMASS. For an independent journalism project, she went undercover at the Miss Massachusetts Teenage Pageant. According to her, interest in journalism spurred her to eventually form a career in television.
“I ended up doing an internship at Channel 5 in Boston, WCVB TV, and that was it, I was off to the races,” Berenson said. “I just said, this is what I want my career to be.”
Berenson said that she tried to interact with as many different people as she could at the high school. This skill of networking helped her in her career, as she helped convince people to come onto shows like Good Morning America.
Berenson said that she had many teachers who acted as mentors for her. Forty years later, she is still in contact with them she said. Berenson said that developing relationships with teachers was important because these mentors helped her with many decisions.
Though she said that she has a shy side, Berenson emphasized the importance of communication in achieving success.
“Communication was sort of the cornerstone of what I had learned at Brookline High, and I think the fact that I learned to communicate there has now translated to whether I’m texting or tweeting or doing email or on the phone. Communication, I found, is the most important skill in both life and in work,” Berenson said. “So, if you can communicate well and even if you’re shy, if you can break through that and communicate in a way that is professional and in a way that is courteous to people and how you’d want to be treated. I think that was really eye opening for me.”
Berenson said that she appreciated the resources that the high school provided her.
“It really gave you opportunities that I know a lot of other kids at the time at other schools didn’t have,” Berenson said. “So, we felt really, really fortunate to be at Brookline.”
Jonathon Riley ’97
2004 Athens Olympian Jonathon Riley came to the high school in his junior year, moving to Brookline from upstate New York. According to him, Brookline high school was a much larger high school than his previous school, and this allowed him to interact in a more open environment.
“It was something that I was excited about, and just having been at a small school for a long time, I was pretty excited about what a city type school would be like and just the opportunity to meet more people,” Riley said.
Besides taking drawing classes that sparked his interest in art, Riley ran cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Riley credits his development into an elite athlete to both his teammates, who he formed close friendships with, and to his coaches, who helped him set goals and work to achieve them.
“The team aspect was always important to me and it’s also why I enjoyed running so much,” Riley said, “that it was something that I could share with teammates and they became my best friends. You get out into the real world, and even in a regular job or anything, you’re always dependent on you team, you’re only as good as your team.”
According to Riley, high school helped to build a foundation for his later life. His high school experience helped him develop relationships with others and strengthen his academics. He also said that developing passions in high school is significant.
“I think to find a passion for something, and if that passion is music or literature or sports,” Riley said, “I think having that passion in your life, and something that’s valuable enough for you to invest time and effort into, helps you develop into a better person.
Riley said that the founding of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center helped to create an exciting atmosphere in Boston during the ‘90s. Riley won in at a Massachusetts All-States meet there, and also had victories at high school national championships and U.S. national championships at the track.
To aspiring athletes, Riley said that they should not be daunted by having to balance sports and athletics.
“You’ve already got the skills of prioritizing your time,” Riley said. “and I think if you’re a dedicated athlete, you understand being responsible, so you’re responsible in all aspects of your life. So, to me, if it’s something that you want to do, there’s certainly a way to make it happen, and it might even be easier than you realize because you’ve already been doing it.”