October 3, 2012
Alumni celebrate Fairfax High’s rich legacy
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Platt does not don rose-colored glasses looking back at his Fairfax years and is not shy about discussing the warts, from unprepared faculty to counselors who discouraged students from taking AP classes.
“On the positive side, I made many lifelong friends among the students I taught and saw them succeed, both as human beings and at whatever endeavor they chose,” he said.
Students such as Eric Dyson (1987), an accomplished cameraman/director of photography who worked on Fox’s “24.”
“This was a place that was an urban blend of cultures and styles,” said Dyson, director of the upcoming feature “Park After Dark,” “a time when the racial landscape of the school was in transition.”
Sala Iwamatsu and Lara Morris Starr also graduated Fairfax 25 years ago.
“I was enriched in many ways ... at Fairfax,” said Starr, a Bay Area resident working in marketing at Chronicle Books. “I had opportunities to thrive academically in AP classes … interact with kids from wildly diverse backgrounds. My respect for the teachers and administrators has grown exponentially as I’ve become an adult … more fully appreciating the enormity of their jobs.”
Iwamatsu, an East Coast-based theater actress who played in Broadway productions of “Miss Saigon,” “Rent” and “Avenue Q,” remembered, “At the time ... there were a lot of cuts to the arts department. I did not participate in any drama or music programs. I was already studying privately and working at East West Players.”
While her Fairfax experiences did not directly inform her career choice, “My involvement with student council and what I learned under the guidance of [American government teacher George] Zografos has been invaluable in my adult life. He taught me how to run meetings, organize fundraisers, speak in public and prioritize. He was such a great teacher, and his humor and enthusiasm made us all want to do our best.”
Iwamatsu, Starr and Dyson attended at a time when the school experienced drama mirroring the L.A. racial turmoil of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1986, an African-American Fairfax grad visiting campus to notify his teachers of his college acceptance was gunned down by gang members. The tragedy rocked Fairfax, which reacted by installing metal detectors.
Today, those detectors are gone, as is any inkling of gang-related tensions, according to students interviewed by the Jewish Journal last week.
Their issues now center on a sandals-and-tank tops ban instituted by incoming principal Carmina Nacorda and a truncated summer due to a restructured school year.
Eleventh-graders Deshay Thompson and Jessika Yamahiro socialized with friends following a shortened day. Thompson and Yamahiro, who plays on Fairfax’s reigning female basketball team, confirm that racially diverse Fairfax is largely friction-free.
“Everyone hangs out together,” Thompson said.
Senior Georgina Pardo, who ran in Hispanic and Armenian circles at Bancroft Middle School, says she likes that more cultures are represented at Fairfax. As a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance, Pardo feels her school reflects diversity beyond racial lines. A Fairfax legacy preceded by her sisters, Pardo said, “They told me the education is better and I should take advantage of that,” she said.
“The greatest influence [Fairfax] gave me was exposure to people’s differences and acceptance of others,” Dyson said. “As a filmmaker/storyteller, I am constantly calling upon memories of people I knew during those years … as templates for characters.”
While some older alumni nostalgic for a largely Jewish school may lament the ethnic turnover at today’s Fairfax, younger graduates see the experience differently.
As Starr put it, “My son will be in high school next year, in a largely white, upper-income suburban community, and I struggle with the differences between his experience and mine. He’ll no doubt get a good education that will prepare him for college. But will he be prepared for life?”
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