Adam Yauch, a founding member of the Beastie Boys who died of cancer last week, attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn. One of his teachers, Judith Berezin List, remembers having him in her class as a gangly freshman in 1979. She wrote this piece for the Murrow Network, the student newspaper. It has been lightly edited.
By Judith Berezin List
Edward R. Murrow High School
Some of you might remember me. I taught Communication Arts (English) at Murrow High School from 1978 until 2007, becoming the department assistant principal in 2004. I left my beloved Murrow to become the English department chair at Brentwood High School, in Suffolk County. I would like to share my reminiscences of “MCA,” Adam Yauch, my former student at Murrow.
Driving home from work last Friday, I listened to the news on 1010 WINS and I was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Adam Yauch. I had often spoken about Adam to my son, Joe, now 21 years old and a college student.
Joe, a longtime Beastie Boys fan, had previously told me that Adam had been battling cancer. So, through my tears, I called Joe, not only to tell him the sad news, but to ask him to help me understand my great sadness. After all, I had not seen Adam in about 30 years, but my grief was almost overwhelming.
Adam was my student in Writer’s Workshop. I can still remember where he sat, near the window in the front of the class in 210A. He was thin and so his jeans and sweaters always seemed big on him. That year Adam seemed to grow much taller, and his face became more masculine and less of a boy’s face. He was quiet and unassuming, but always a presence in the class.
Was he an angel and an ideal student? No. But then, I never did favor those angelic types!
I’ll tell you what he was: Adam Yauch was a regular kid, who sometimes needed to be pushed to do his homework — but not always — and sometimes came late — but not often — and who ultimately worked and learned some stuff about reading and writing in my class.
He liked his fellow students, he enjoyed a good laugh, and he had depth and humanity, even then.
When we discussed biographies for book reports, Adam read and wrote about Tony Alva, the superstar skateboarder. Thirty years later I still remember it for its unbridled admiration of Alva’s talents.
It never surprised me that Adam himself became a man of prodigious talent and who was concerned with people and philanthropy.
Often Adam and I would ride the subway together, as we lived on the same Brooklyn street. On those rides home from school, he spoke about his band and the gigs they were starting to get.
One day he excitedly told me that his band would soon be getting a record contract. I really liked this kid, and so I cautioned him about not being too disappointed if it didn’t work out, and that he sure had plenty of time to find success.
Oh boy, was I wrong! Adam and the Beastie Boys became, well ... you know how great and influential they were.
On the day that Adam died, I explained to my son that my memories of “MCA” were not just of the performer who helped revolutionize late-20th-century music and poetry, the public figure who memorialized E.R. Murrow High School and the Avenue M station in his hip-hop love letters to New York City; no, I still see Adam’s sweet face in the classroom, at the age of 16 or so, writing from the heart whenever possible.
As Joe said, maybe my sadness should be mixed with pride for perhaps influencing this man a tiny bit. Maybe it is good to remember the hopeful teenage Adam Yauch and recognize the cleareyed goodness and humanism he possessed, evident still in all the later publicity photos.
To Adam’s parents, wife, child and family and friends, I am so sorry for your great loss.
To all his Murrow family, let’s remember him and honor him for his creative and optimistic spirit, for the good he brought to the world, and for his passionate commitment to life and the arts.
And to teachers all over, I share my stories of the late Adam Yauch to remind you that we can never know which of our students will bring about the next revolution or create the next new idea and inspire a generation; therefore we must passionately believe that every student will surely be the next one to move us all forward and bring us that unwavering message of hope.
Thank you, Adam.
Editor's note: A previous version of this post misidentified the skateboarder that Mr. Yauch wrote about. It was Tony Alva, not Tony Hawk.