Cherry Lawn in the Late 1960s as Described by Laura Schoen

I came to Cherry Lawn in September 1967 as a Junior in high school. I came from a wealthy suburban town outside of Philadelphia. I had difficulty in public school, because I was a rather independent, artistic type unlike the standard "rah-rah" clean cut type that was prevalent in the area and during the times. It was the end of the innocence of big high school football and sports rallys and the beginning of serious involvement fighting against the "establishments" like school bureaucracies, governmental bureaucracies -- anyone who was "in charge" was facing the wrath of an unruly youth who demanded answers instead of just being told what and how to do it.

The words of the day were "revolution", "anarchy", "SDS-Students for a Democratic Society", NAACP-National Assoc. for the Advancement of Colored People, and "CORE - Congress of Racial Equality". Vietnam was prevalent in our minds and the absurdity of war. Other big words at the time were "Peace" and "Love." Students were beginning to streak naked across the college campuses. "Free Love" was a concept that had begun especially big in Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco) and in The Village (Greenwich Village). The music was beginning to get hallucinogenic, Jimi Hendrix-one of our students dated him, the Beatles were beginning their acid trip music (Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Yellow Submarine); the Doors were big; Richie Havens.) Drugs were infecting the student bodies all over, but especially at independent schools such as ours, and we lost a few in our classes to drug overdoses. The thinking was intense and mind-boggling.

For student trips we rented buses and went to the Filmore East to see concerts like Richie Havens, The Lovin Spoonful, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane (& Grace Slick), The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa.

There was an element of straightness in the administration at Cherry Lawn that helped to keep the school as grounded in the focus of education as possible, but with a nudge toward independent thinking. I took courses such as "The Novel of The Radical Left" where we studied writers and thinkers like Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), Marshall McLuhan (The Message is the Medium), Norman Mailer, Ram Das, the Yogi Maharishi, Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic dome. The Whole Earth Catalogue -- everyone had one. The Feminists were coming out of the woodwork at that time. The one that comes to mind is Germaine Greer and her book "The Female Eunuch".

The teachers treated the students for the most part with a respect for our questioning of the universe and treated us as adults. We were very much kids, but with a maturing desire for independence. I personally found out that although I couldn't live WITH my parents at the time -- a lot of confusion and rebellion; I was no where near prepared to take care of myself financially, or even emotionally. The friends I made at a boarding school, where we were taught respect for one another and love for each other's differences (in most cases) were the things that drove me forward to be an independent person, not standing with the crowd if my passions dictated otherwise.

We had a fire in a dorm in February of 1968 that destroyed a boys and girls dorm, a dining hall, a gymnasium and a theatre. The loss was monumental to the school and financially devastating as the school tried to move forward (finally closing in 1972 due to severe financial difficulties). The **trustees, administration and staff** did all they could to raise money and keep the school going. The fire pulled the students together so that we were bunking 7-8 in a room made for 3-4. It was like a "love-in" except that we weren't so progressive as to put boys and girls together. (We went into the woods as couples -- the sexual experimentation was fairly intense at the time.)

Reverend William Sloane Coffin was our commencement speaker and an activist against the war in 1969. Several of the teachers at the time took deferments from the draft by teaching in our school as a deferment from the War in Vietnam.

Cherry Lawn taught me to believe in myself and to promote the convictions and passions that were crucial to my very personal existence. It is a place where I learned to love myself for the differences that I exhibited from my prior life in a public high school where conventionalism and uniformity was the only way. Having recently returned to my public high school was a rather innocuous event. It wasn't nearly as easy to reconnect with that group 30 years later as I it was able to rekindle the relationships with my fellow Cherry Lawners at our recent CLS reunion. It has been an awesome experience meeting up with others that I either didn't know as well or never knew at all and to realize the connection between us is as strong as if we were in the same family or had attended school together. Pretty powerful stuff, huh!



Note: Laura's description was in response to a current Darien High School student who wanted to know something about Cherry Lawn and what it was like to be a student there.

Submitted 8-Jan-2000