Coming of Age on the Upper East Side

“You know everybody that goes to every single Catholic school in the city between like Fordham, Xavier, Regis, DA, Notre Dame, Ferrer, and Marymount like the list just goes on and on and you just know all these people” said Josie Moran, who graduated from a high school on the Upper East Side in 2018. 

Hiding in plain sight in Manhattan, New York is an extensive network of teenagers ranging from ages 15 to 19 that all learn and socialize on 64th street to 86th street. 

I know this culture of the Catholic school Upper East Side connection well. I attended Saint Vincent Ferrer High School on 65th Street and Lexington Avenue. Everyday walking through Grand Central with a group of friends, then on the 6 train to finally walk three blocks all just to get to school by 7:00 in the morning. 

Commuting along with the men and women who were heading to their corporate jobs, there is a feeling that you have, as a freshman, when you first start school that you are not supposed to be where you are. I was in a polo with my school’s crest, a blue pleated shirt, knee high socks, and black flats, while getting constant weird looks from the adults in suits or nannies taking their young kids to school. 

Although as you get older and understand the neighborhood more, these Catholic school kids can take you around the city better than most adults. There is an adaptation to the city that these blocks with 124 years of history are our campus to take advantage of. 

At 7 in the morning, you never know what to expect walking out of the subway on 65th street and down the few blocks till you get to your school's doors. Like when the first signs of Christmas in New York came out, my friends and I would be the first to see the new display of the Bloomingdale Christmas windows.  “There was modeling happening like photo shoots” said Allie Rach who was an alum from Dominican Academy  high school also known as DA, “people were wearing crazy outfits in the street and like big huge dresses and I just walked by it on the way to school”

Each student had a different kind of experience every morning and every afternoon. When parents asked us the classic question of, “what did you do at school today”, the story of getting to school was so much more interesting than the actual school day. 

“When you could wear a sweatshirt and have your little spring uniform on, I used to walk Fifth Avenue then to sit in the park after school”, said Moran “The sun was shining on your face, all the trees canopy over the streets and the big red tulips are all over Park Avenue” 

“Was it like Gossip Girl?” is the question always following when I tell people I go to school on the Upper East Side. Gossip Girl was a TV show in the early 2000s that followed a group of teenagers coming of age on the Upper East Side. 

There are stereotypes lived up to going to school in the area, when there are always students in their skirts and polos sitting on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art like Blair Waldorf would in the teen drama. But The Met was more than just a place to sit and meet friends. 

“It was like therapy.” said Moran who would go to look at the European Impressionism Wing every time, “You could just go and sit, like I would go after school sometimes” 

It was a break from school when like all high school students who are constantly being stimulated from teachers or devices. The priceless art is The Met was something to look at to shut off your brain. It was always quiet and reflective. You could look at Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and connect to something bigger than yourself. High school can feel like the most important thing in the world, but being around this history was a reminder that there was more than just the drama of college applications or chemistry class. 

There’s no football stadium, but there is The Great Lawn in Central Park. On 64th and Lexington, there is the small diner, Eat Here Now, that can fit and  feed a group of 16 girls alongside the normal clientele of people like to call the area home. The same Ukrainian women would greet us every time as if we were as much local as those who pay millions of dollars to live on the few blocks.

“When going to school of the Upper East Side, you really have like such a weird idealized sense of what you want your life to be” said Alana Pons who also graduated from Saint Vincent Ferrer High School in 2018, “We were just exposed to some crazy amount of wealth that like not necessarily is normal.”  

In class, I would look out the window and daydream about the future from being too bored to learn about economics or french. Instead of seeing a football field and dream of being homecoming queen, I would look through the windows of townhouses that were worth millions of dollars with priceless kinds of furniture inside them. The people that lived there were former presidents or owners of Fortune 500 companies. There I set goals for myself based on the life I saw around me in high school. 

I got more than one education going to school on the Upper East Side. There is a speeded up process of gaining independence when you have to travel and live in an area that people don't get to travel everyday until years of schooling and getting a job. It was why the connection between the students in the different schools is so strong because we are the only people who get each other. 

Your identity is shaped by the twenty blocks. Even though we all go off college elsewhere, who you were then never leaves you.