Final Curtain

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It’s ironic that last Thursday night I was watching “Glee” on TV, my new favorite addiction about life in a drama/singing club in high school, and the next day I found out that the high school I attended, loved, danced through, ‘starred in’ and in later life, helped fund…is closing. The curtain has come down on part of my life. And it’s a part of my life that shaped me as a woman, a marketer and most importantly, a person. This article in The Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed that I wasn’t alone in my love for my school.

A little background. I always felt like a bit of an outlier, working here in NY, living a life that seemed glamorous and odd to me growing up in Philadelphia. To be honest, (or to tell the Whole Truth as our new book espouses), when I was growing up, I didn’t think about New York at all. To me, Philadelphia was the biggest, most wonderful and successful city in the world. New York was another planet. And to a Catholic girl who grew up in a rowhouse in the Olney neighborhood of north Philly, no school but Cardinal Dougherty was even on the map because we were once the biggest Catholic High School in the world. I kid you not… as many as 6,000 kids at our peak.

I learned most of what I believed about women, about achievement, about making it as a little fish in a big pond at Cardinal Dougherty. It wasn’t a fancy prep school. And it wasn’t a tough city school. It was the last of what would be a local Catholic high school with the uniforms, saddles shoes and legends that come with it– like a scene from a movie, except it was true.

Succeeding with so much competition was tough. Earning the lead in a musical in a school that big meant something. I don’t know about the kids of “Glee”, but for me, growing up among so many others was life-changing. And doing it as a girl in one of the few co-ed Catholic high schools at a time of educational gender segregation was critical to my business success. (We were actually co-institutional which meant we were in the same building as the boys but not allowed to look at them until senior year when all of a sudden we were academically competitive.)  Though today I would advocate for all-female secondary schools to develop women’s strengths and individuality, in the late 60s and early 70s, we needed to survive the tempest of being thrown in with men to give us a shot at dealing what was coming next…the feminist revolution.

I was forged in a male/female educational environment, so much so that I doubled down at college, enrolling in schools that had also, shockingly, broken 100 year plus tradition and gone co-ed moments before. Striking my own path as a young woman and then shaping my voice in theater, energized me.  And I took that naïve confidence straight to the office and never assumed that I was meant to wait in the wings.

I owe my voice to Cardinal Dougherty High School. Though the closing seems to be a done deal, there are kids there now who need my help.  I won’t let them down because this school gave me more than a stage. The school gave me nerve and courage and street smarts and roots. I am sad—and yes, disappointed and even angry that our support wasn’t enough and that the economy and demographics did us in. But more than that, I am grateful to the teachers and staff, especially the sisters, who took a bunch of neighborhood Philly kids and made us believe we were more. For that, I won’t linger on the closing night of my school…but only the opening night of what was and what’s next.

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November 28, 2020
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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