Okay, so what’s a Peddie? No doubt, an ancestor or descendant of the Rev. Thomas B. Peddie, a Baptist Minister from Scotland who settled in central New Jersey in the first half of the 19th century and eventually became the senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Hightstown, New Jersey. As a nice Jewish boy from New York City, I passed that church many a time on my way to Saturday-night dances at the Canteen, lodged above the local firehouse, where other Peddie students had a chance to do the lindy hop or, if they were lucky, slow-dance with high-school-aged girls from the town. You see, back then in the early 1950s, we were boarders at the all-male Peddie School, housed in Hightstown, and the chance to get within a foot of any female in our general age range, even if they were, gulp, Townies, was too tempting to miss. And as the school’s name suggests, it was founded, ironically, as a Baptist girls “seminary” in 1864 by a grant from the good reverend and has carried his name ever since. The good news is, after more than a century as a boys’ prep school, it has been co-ed for some decades now...
I got there in the summer of 1953, at the august age of 13. Apparently, I had done so well on the entrance exam that if I managed to get Bs in summer-school math and English, I would skip 8th grade and begin high school in the fall. I ended up getting As and became a regular boarding freshman in September. My parents sacrificed a few cruises and more to send me to Peddie after a major disagreement with them over, well, everything. After several visits to a wonderful psychotherapist in New York, one Dr. Alan Fromme, they sent me to Peddie on his recommendation. He thought if there were some distance between my parents and me, things would eventually become calmer and more harmonious with us, and he turned out to be prophetic.
From a mediocre public-school student, I became an academic superstar, a decent athlete, and what the Germans call “a Hans in every side-street” (ein Hans in allen Gassen)—someone active in a large variety of extra-curricular activities: band, orchestra, choir, yearbook, you name it. In fact, I won the award as the most active student in the school in my sophomore year. Wonder of wonders, I even enjoyed daily chapel—to be honest, the hymns more than most of the sermons—and was the top student in the required religion class, something I prided myself on in a very un-Christian way by outdoing the mainly Christian students in learning about their religion. Great teachers and caring house masters, small classes, and lots of positive feedback no doubt helped me get into and do well at Yale, another pretty un-Jewish place, and doubtless contributed to my baptism as a graduate student there in 1967. “Steady Old Peddie” was the school’s marching song. My four years and two summers there clearly steadied me for college, graduate school, and life. I’m sure the Rev. Dr. Peddie would be pleased. Thank you, Reverend, and you, “our dear old school.”