Ten years ago, when 200 students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School gathered in one place, it was probably for an antiwar demonstration.
But Saturday night, a decade after graduation from a high school known for its radical student body during the turmoil of the Sixties, the B-CC class of '71 was reunited peacefully. The former classmates talked, dined and danced in the chandelier-lit ballroom of the Bethesda Holiday Inn. d
"Our class was against anything that was traditional," said Lisa Suydam, former pom-pon girl and now an administrator at George Washington University. "I'm glad to see that the class could get over that and hold something as traditional as a reunion."
Like many of her classmates, Suydam recalled that her class spurned even the tradition of the senior prom, opting instead for a "senior bash" at Carter's Rock near Great Falls, Va. Kevin Scullen, a member of the reunion committee who donned a tux for the occasion, recalled that the bash featured plenty of drugs and alcohol."That's what our senior year was like," he said.
Other classmates reminisced about the times they made headlines. "We used to be on the front pages all the time for our antiwar protests, for our May Day marches, for our sit-ins and walk-outs," remembered Darcy Lubbers, now an art therapist in California.
But in the dimly lit banquet hall last week, with old Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel tunes playing in the background, many members of the B-CC class of '71 admitted joining the establishment -- or at least considering it.
"My idealism has been tempered, for sure," said Bruce Bortnick, a medical student who described himself as a "student-jock" during his years at B-CC. "I participated in a few protests back then. Everyone did. Now, I'm more cynical."
John McKay, also a veteran of B-CC protest rallies, spent some of Saturday night criticizing his former activism. "I was just too much of a juvenile to understand what we were protesting," he said. "We were making moral decisions and, at 18, you're just too young to be doing that."
No one seemed surprised -- or disappointed -- when Charley Peto, once one of the school's most ardent anti-war protesters, described his experiences since graduation. "Three years out of high school, and at the tender young age of 21, I was already working for the military-industrial complex," he told a group of smiling classmates. Peto sewed more than 2,000 knife sheaths for the Marine Corps in a Maryland factory. "I didn't think much of it then because they called it a survival knife," he explained. But after a year, when Peto realized that "the Marines used the knives to stab people to death," he quit the job. He now works as a medical researcher in Worcester, Mass.
According to the results of a questionaire distributed by the reunion committee and returned by nearly 200 of the 650 graduates, Peto is one of four medical assistants in B-CC's class of '71. Other statistics gathered by the group show that almost 80 respondents have remained in the Bethesda area. Sixty class members have married. And although eight are practicing medicine and 10 have become lawyers, many are just beginning to settle down to steady jobs.
"After I graduated, I just pumped gas," said Phil Termini, who sported a white three-piece suit for the reunion. "I guess I had to find out what a drag it was to work at a nowhere job before I decided to join my father's business and get established." A little over a year ago, Termini opened his own cabinetmaking shop. "It was a long process, a slow haul," he said of the years after graduation, "But I'm happy now, I'd say."
For some, career decisions still have not become clear.
Tom Quinn has worked as a bus driver, a cab driver, a clerical employe and a vegetable picker since he graduated from University of Maryland. Unlike many of his classmates, Quinn still wears his hair long and braided, and expresses pride in his high school activities. "We were really working for a juster society. We were concerned with our rights and the rights of others," the bearded Quinn said. Today he pursues social activism with more vigor than he did 10 years ago, chiefly by working with food cooperatives and consumer organizations. "I really think I learned at lot at B-CC. I think that's where the roots of my social consciousness are."
Some of the classmates stressed, however, that B-CC's class of '71 shouldn't be remembered solely for its protests and rallies.
"There were really factions at B-CC," said Albert Woodfield. "There were the heads, the greasers, the hippies, the jocks. . . . One teacher used to call me a fascist because I was president of the rifle club."
Woodfield, who now works for the Department of Defense, remembered that his B-CC classmates considered him an "outcast" because he wore his hair short and didn't take drugs. "It was a confusing time; there was a lot of turmoil. And I'm afraid some of the kids never came back from the trips they went on," Woodfield said. "There were a lot of casualties from our class."
Few factions -- and no casualties -- were in evidence Saturday night. Classmates talked and danced until 2 a.m., the party interrupted only for a raffle and a slide show of the class 10 years ago.
The graduates cheered and applauded as each slide brought back memories of what the high school -- and their class -- was like.
"You know," said Pat Mitchell, looking around the room, "People may look different, but inside they're still the same."