The original building
Fifty years at the Shore Drive campus
The Bancroft School is the oldest independent day school in Central Massachusetts. In 1900, a group of Worcester parents invited Frank Robson of Princeton, New Jersey, to head the new school. The School was named in honor of George Bancroft, a diplomat, Secretary of the Navy, and historian who was born in Worcester in 1800. Mr. Bancroft personified those qualities of scholarship and service upon which Bancroft School was founded. Outgrowing modest school buildings on Elm Street, the School moved to more spacious quarters on Sever Street in 1922, to a building which would accommodate the two hundred and fifty students who then attended the school.
In Response To An E-mail Request: A Few Thoughts on Bancroft, Friendship, Music and Education as I Watch Pundits Discuss Barack Obama on Television
I was a member of the first group at the new campus, and I was a first myself. During my two years at Bancroft I studied with a revered French teacher who opened the world to us. And with an English teacher who in fine old New England fashion saw me as something of an experiment. She was curious to see how I would fare under her exacting regimen, and made clear her delight at my success. Another English teacher took a group of us for a weekend visit to her home in Stonington, CT, where we spent an afternoon with her friend, the great poet James Merrill. And whatever else I learned in history class, I still can rattle off the first syllable of the last name of each President all in under twenty seconds.
I learned to play field hockey. I learned to ski at Waterville in the days of the old rope tow. I took great pleasure in reviving the dormant Debating Society; as president I led our team to a respectable season. I loved every moment of the hard work and long hours we put into school plays.
In those days, no matter how modest your singing skills, all seniors were automatically admitted to the Chorus. I auditioned to see where my voice fit best. A few days later I was told I could not be a member. The many joint concerts at boys’ schools were followed by mixers and as Bancroft’s first and only African American student it would not be appropriate for me to participate in such events; surely I understood it was best to spare myself and the school any embarrassment. A classmate, the star soprano, was rehearsed in that little speech and dispatched by the music teacher to deliver the news to me.
All seniors were eligible, but not all joined. That year some of my closest friends decided they already had too many demanding extracurricular activities and could not include the rehearsal and travel time in their busy schedules. I’ll admit it took me some time to put two and two together, to understand the gift of their righteous indignation.
I cannot say Bancroft changed my life – – I was not a waif on the academic doorstep. My father had a graduate degree from Harvard, as did his brother. My mother, a graduate of what was once Worcester State Teachers College, did her graduate work at Columbia. She returned to Worcester following divorce and bought a home in Leicester where we lived when I was at Bancroft. Her mother had attended the New England Conservatory.
Bancroft memories include uniforms, sleepovers, circle pins, driving down route 9 to Cambridge with our newly minted licenses. Dining at the old Wursthaus in Harvard Square. Although we never enjoyed anything stronger than sodas with our dinners there, on the way the back home late at night when there was very little traffic we sometimes played a foolish game. Gunning the car above the speed limit, the driver would weave back and forth across the full width of the road shouting “are you drunk or are you sober?!” Windows down, our laughter echoed in the hollow night and through the trees along the roadside.
One of those nights, in bed at last, I was drifting off to sleep when suddenly I was trembling uncontrollably with a mix of delayed terror and relief as a profound understanding of our folly, our mortality, and our incredible luck washed over me in crashing waves of contrition, gratitude, and sheer relief. We never did it again.
Graduation came. Our class was aglow in our white suits and dresses, holding bouquets of roses. The chorus rose to perform at the front of the stage. Those of us who were not members had been told explicitly during graduation rehearsals that we were to keep our seats during this musical interlude. We non-choristers agreed we’d look silly scattered about the rows of empty seats. As the others filed out row by row we simply joined in turn. We had heard the selections during rehearsal and sang merrily along. We were a senior class united in song. We returned to our seats and the ceremony continued with the speaker, the awards, the diplomas.
After we had all left the stage – – perhaps we were having group pictures taken at the reception- – the music teacher found those of us who had transgressed and hissed with a vitriol I remember to this day, “congratulations, you succeeded in ruining graduation.”
We were taken aback, but as one we understood that whatever she said didn’t matter. We were somehow better, stronger, wiser, and indeed more compassionate than to be fazed by such pettiness. We were on our way to college; we were our parents’ pride; we had a world of possibilities before us – – we hadn’t ruined anything yet. For a few golden, celebratory hours on that beautiful sunny day, every single member of our class was full of excitement and promise. We had gotten it all just right. We were, all of us, brand new Bancroft graduates.