By Patrick Donachie
As alumni entered Bayside High School for the 80th anniversary of the school’s founding, the walls were decorated with student photos from decades past. The crowd of attendees gazed at the class portraits, sports teams and sororities in the school’s celebrated history.
“You can’t really celebrate the future without understanding the past,” Emanuel Mensah, an alumnus from the class of 2012, said. “When you go to a school like this, you feel like a family.”
Alumni enjoyed food donated by Brian Dempsey’s Bar and Restaurant in the school’s gym, which was adorned with balloons, a photo booth and a dance floor. Dozens of tables were set up for the more than 200 attendees, with alumni ranging from classes dating back to the early ‘60s and up to the past few years. Donald Bohn and Eileen Torraca, both of the class of 1962, said the school had been impeccably maintained. They also fondly recalled teachers they had shared.
“They were really devoted to the students,” Toracca said.
Bayside High School’s first day was on March 16, 1936, and is consistently considered one of the best schools in New York City’s Department of Education. The school boasts a 92 percent four-year graduation rate in comparison to the citywide average of 69 percent, according to the New York school reviews site insid
Natasha Valentin, a graduate of the school’s class of 2016, worked the dials as the DJ for the event. Valentin said that the playlist had been challenging to decide on, as the audience included an array of ages and tastes. She said she had downloaded hit songs from the 1920s through the present day.
“I’m going to start relaxed,” she said, “and then brighten it up later.”
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) noted that the school received more than $850,000 in participatory budgeting from the city during the past two years to construct a new music studio. Vallone and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) both received Lifetime Service Awards during the event. Posthumous awards were given to Alice Hartley, a former assistant principal, and Stephen Piorkowski, a celebrated physical education teacher. Vallone said that he wanted the New York City Council to recognize Piorkowski’s contributions to the community with an honorary street renaming.
“We’re going to have to push extra hard for Steven,” he said. “We’re trying to show how much Steven meant to us.”
More than 200 alumni attended the event, and the seats were mostly filled just an hour into the event. The celebrations had started a day earlier with an art show, tours of the school guided by current students and a performance from students in the school’s music program.
Jonathan Nuwestra said he had taught social studies at Bayside for 22 years, and he spoke about a flag printed on the wall on the side of one of the school’s stairwells. The flag, he said, was in memory of students who had fought in the World War II, and he noted that many of the school’s inaugural students had fought and died during the conflict.
“Some of the students, their legacy is on that wall,” he said, and spoke fondly of what the school’s history, staff and students meant to him. “I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona