In October of 1980, four years before my admission to Cathedral Preparatory School in Erie, PA, Lisa Birnbach, Jonathan Roberts, Carol McD Wallace, and Mason Wiley published a satirical book about how to live the Prep lifestyle – from youth to old age. It was a pretty huge hit – and while I attended a parochial grade school, I already knew that I wanted to attend Prep school. My parents told me that I threatened to run away from home if I wasn’t able to attend. I don’t remember ever saying that but given my strong love for tradition, faith, ceremony, brotherhood, and the ultimate expressions in scholastic and athletic superiority – it sounds like something I would have said.
There was an enormous public school in Millcreek Township just down the road from where we lived. I could easily have walked to school, being perhaps a mile away from our home. Friends I had in my neighborhood would be going to school there. But I also had my St. Peter’s Cathedral Center male friends who would be attending the all-boys Prep school. My parents were already paying taxes to have me go to McDowell High. But I wanted to take that Prep bus that came out through Millcreek to pick us up. I wanted to experience being held in high regard as a student and a representative of a cherished institution that sent 95%+ of its graduating students to college. That produced exceptional athletes, holding all kinds of records. Cathedral was the pinnacle of achievement in the area and arguably the state of Pennsylvania.
To sum Prep up in a short story – there was a girl that I saw at a Prep-McDowell football game. I was enthralled, and I asked some of my fellow students who this angel was. She attended Villa Maria, a local all-girls high school. A sister school to Prep really, on the other side of town. After some time on the phone afterward, and visiting where she worked at the Millcreek Mall, we were dating. I remember back then it was traditional to meet the father when picking a girl up for a date. Her father was nice enough, but I could tell that he wasn’t quite sure about me initially. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and talked about my plans for that evening and when I would be returning his daughter home. He then asked where I went to school.
“I’m a Freshman at Cathedral Prep”, I said proudly. A smile came to his mouth, he reached out for another handshake and a soft pat on the shoulder, and he said, “That’s all I need to know. You two have yourselves a wonderful evening.” I didn’t find out until many years after his death that he was a Prep graduate himself. I wish I had known that while we were still in contact with one another.
But Prep was that kind of place. Think of the fictional Welton Academy in Vermont from the film Dead Poets Society. That’s actually the closest representation of Cathedral Prep – although Prep wasn’t boarding any longer when I attended In fact they hadn’t for many years. And when they did, I don’t think the numbers were that large. But I’m sure most Prep schools are similar.
That book, while satirical, was pretty spot-on in a number of ways, which allowed it to be truly funny. And while living some of the contents of that handbook, it became very relatable. I still have two copies that I thumb through every so often. My Prep style went out the window years after graduating – but I am mentally circling back. I find warmth, style, and purpose in the style of the prepster.
I enjoy a sockless loafer, chinos, a finely-made button-down from Mercer & Sons, and perhaps a jacket every now and then. I have some knit ties that I can’t manage to bring back to life. But overall, I am tried of the jeans/shorts – t-shirt look. I’m not a kid anymore, although mentally I still feel that way some times. Getting older is something I never thought about until you have kids that are driving and becoming adults themselves. I’ll share some more thoughts on Prep over time – it was genuinely the best time I have ever lived in so many ways. The education, the teachers, the friends, the relationships, what was going on in the world at that time, my health, my outlook, just about everything. Salad days.