One of Prep’s Greatest retires
By Dr. Robert Perrotta, retired Prep principal
The 1970’s were a time of political turmoil and change. Protests against the Vietnam War and the ongoing struggle for the marginalized and for women to achieve equality were juxtaposed to the formation of a new political conservatism that lashed out against the turbulence and liberalism of the 1960’s. The students of this era continued to embrace the hope of the coming of “the Age of Aquarius” proclaiming the anthem of their generation “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”
Amidst this era of chaos and societal change entered through the doors of Fairfield Prep a young teacher named John Szablewicz, the quintessential man of the ‘60’s forged by its politics and inspired by its optimism. John immediately established himself as a teacher who easily related to this generation of students who were wary of authority and who shunned the status quo. Rather, they, along with John, looked to a future where truth, social justice, tolerance and equality were the hoped-for new normal.
For forty-nine years, “Mr. Szabs” has shared with his students his considerable knowledge, his passion for learning and his inspirational teachings of social equality and blind justice for all. For forty-nine years, John Szablewicz labored in the classroom going beyond academic excellence to forge young men of competence, conscience, compassion, creativity and action.
Young men whom he taught to think for themselves and to see not what just is, but what can be. Consequently, it is not surprising that scores of his students have gone on to extraordinary accomplishments in varied careers, all grateful for the lessons learned at the hands of a truly inspirational teacher.
John’s inspirational leadership was not limited to the classroom. Throughout the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s, John was instrumental in radically changing the social studies curriculum to include a newly designed required course that focused on study of the history and culture of China, India, Japan and Korea. At the time, this initiative was considered not just controversial but even radical by some.
John also vigorously supported the addition of upper-division electives to complement the required sequence of departmental offerings. Some of the most popular of these offerings were Anthropology, Sociology, the American Indian (an area in which John has notable expertise) and East Meets West, a global comparison of historical periods. Unfortunately, John’s elective courses were so popular with the students that I had to rotate and limit the number of sections offered so as to ensure that other course offerings would have sufficient enrollment.
John’s incredible popularity among the student body caused me another problem, when students were asked, on a yearly basis, to vote for their “most inspirational teacher.” If permitted, John would have received the award every year because he was always at the top of the vote tally, most times by a considerable margin. Thus, I had to institute a five-year rule under which the winning teacher was not eligible to be considered for a five-year elimination period. Apologies, John!
Someone once said: “A true teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, touches a heart and is impossible to forget.” The halls of Fairfield Prep will never be the same without the inspirational presence of John Szablewicz. John, may your well-deserved retirement bring with it the many fond memories of generations of students who so benefited by your transformational teachings and of colleagues who have truly profited from “standing on the shoulders of a giant.”
A Farewell Message from "Mr. Szabs"
In the fall of 1971 I began my career at Fairfield Prep. It was a time of social unrest, political chaos and economic uncertainty. For three years I was Dean of Men, taught anthropology and coached freshman basketball. When a full time position in the social studies department became available I jumped at the chance, thankful that my years of “ethnographic fieldwork” as an administrator had ended.
The department chair in social studies in those days was “Uncle Lou” Saracco. We had a pretty interesting group of young teachers in the department, including Bruce Jaffe and Dave Driscoll. Lou always reminded us to “be yourself” in the classroom and that the most important thing was knowing your subject matter. Over the years I have taught various courses, from social sciences to Asian and American Indian studies, to all levels of history.
Now, forty-nine years later, I am about to retire. It is a time of social unrest, political chaos and economic uncertainty.
The constant during all these years has been the greatness of Fairfield Prep. No matter what the political and economic climate beyond the walls of our school, Fairfield Prep has remained true to its Jesuit tradition and its mission to educate young men toward intellectual competence, compassion and a commitment to justice. If my service to the school has contributed in any way to the fulfillment of those lofty goals, then I consider my career a success.
Much has been made of the “Prep family,” and it at times sounds like a worn cliché. But I can attest that it is real. My colleagues, both Jesuit and lay, have been like brothers and sisters to me. My many thousands of students know in their hearts that they will always be “my boys.” I treasure all these relationships and leaving them behind is one of the toughest tasks I have ever had to do. I will miss you all very much. Yet, I must now move to the next stage of my life. I will try my best to avoid sentimentality for the past, and follow the advice of Ram Dass to “Be Here Now” and embrace every moment as it arises anew. Go Prep!
Most Sincerely, John W. Szablewicz
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