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Sanford D. Horwitt


Washington High School

Sandy attended and graduated from Washington High School (WHS) in 1961, and according to Sandy, "those were the three best years of my life!"   There are a lot of reasons why I say that; I was very engaged in activities, sports in particular - baseball and football.  I was also involved in student government and had lots of friends in different areas of the school - kids who were academically gifted, and kids who were not.  Kids who lived in all areas of the MPS district. I think that I had rich friendships because of the diversity of what Washington High School offered during that period.

Sandy - how did the "three best years of your life" impact your career with regard to what you are doing now?  Can you see a connection between high school and today?  I was always involved in student council and my dad was interested in politics, so that was another influence. I really wanted to be doing something more political when I finished school. I was teaching for a while, but then I volunteered in a Congressional campaign in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, and by total coincidence, the man who was running (Abner Mikva) was a graduate of Washington High School; a generation before me (1943). He was also a charter member of the WHS Hall of Fame. And so, when he was elected, in a very close election during the Watergate year of 1974, he invited me to go to Washington D.C. I was on his staff for the next five years as a speech writer and his press secretary. I think a lot of my interests in government and politics can be traced to my years in Washington.  It was very exciting. it was also the end of the Vietnam war period.

How would you define yourself; outside of the book. Who is Sandy Horwitt?  That’s a good question, I try to answer that question everyday – and I am still trying to answer it. Increasingly as I've gotten older, I see myself as a writer.  This is the most recent book - Conversations with Abner Mikva. It is my third book and it took me awhile to really realize that I am a writer, meaning that I know how to write things that I really didn’t know about 25 or 35 years ago. I’ve also been involved in a lot of projects having to do with civic engagement and young people. I was the founding president of the "Mikva Challenge," which was formed to honor my old boss  and his wife Zoe, for their illustrious public service careers. The purpose of the "Mikva Challenge" is to inspire and engage young people, especially high school students, to get involved in the political and civic process; to be active, participating young people. The Mikva Challenge started in Chicago but has expanded to other cities including Milwaukee where MPS students and teachers are also participating.--And so, I have been involved in that for 20 years in a volunteer capacity; a very serious volunteer capacity.

Sandy, your influence, and the way in which you inspire young people is a blessing. It sounds like you were inspired to inspire?   This book, that I am going to give to you, is dedicated to democracy’s next generation and there is an old labor song from the early 1960’s, Judy Collins recorded it and the chorus goes something like: “Freedom doesn’t come like a bird on the wing, it doesn’t come down like the morning rain. Freedom, freedom is a hard-won thing. You have to work for it; fight for it - day and night for it. And every generation has to win it again.”  And I think many of us think that we are living through a period now when that message is particularly appropriate.

I graduated from the School of Speech at Northwestern University, which had a great department, a very eclectic department - I do feel that I received the very best education there.

But I should also tell you, quick anecdote; which is in this book. The reason I got into Northwestern is because of another Washington High School Alum. I was a very good baseball player at WHS, not the best on the team, but I was pretty good. We won the city conference championship in 1960, my senior year. So I am getting close to graduating when my baseball coach at Washington High School, Charlie Bilek, he was also a great math teacher, got a call one day from a man named Tom Meyer. Tom had graduated from Washington High School in the late 50’s and he played baseball there, and played baseball at Northwestern University, where he was the freshman baseball coach. One day he made a phone call to Charlie Bilek and said,  “we just had a baseball scholarship player here at Northwestern who signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox, so we have an extra scholarship but we have to give it to somebody almost immediately - otherwise we will lose it. Do you know anyone who could start school almost immediately!” And that is how I got to Northwestern and how I also got to play baseball. But it was all because of that Washington High School connection. I saw Tom Meyer recently at an outing sponsored by WHS Alumni Association.  He is now the volunteer baseball coach at Riverside. "He changed my life. Without Tom, I don’t know where I would have been." Connections are how the world works!

What would you say to fellow alums, not just from WHS, but MPS alumni in general? Any advice you could offer them?  I would say that there are so many opportunities to simply volunteer. Use your skills and experience and share them with young people. Young people are concerned about a range of issues in their lives and they have great ideas. They just don't have the wealth of experience that somebody who is a little older might. Today’s youth is all about instantaneous gratification. As I remember my own youth, I was probably very impatient along the lines of wanting to get to the goal rather than discover through a well-thought out process. I think things may have gotten worse because of technology. I was with a group of high school and college students, and we were talking about trying to affect change in their communities, and one young man said, “the problem is, when you click on democracy, nothing happens.” Whether it is at the local level and certainly at the federal level, there is a lot of frustration for our citizens who want to make change and things don’t happen quick enough. I think now because we are standing there at the street corner with our smart phones and we click on something, we expect to find something instantaneously.  And without realizing it, that sort of instantaneous gratification spills over into other phases of our lives where it is not so helpful.  I so admire the kids at Parkland High School in Florida for sparking the consciousness of the country. My family and I went to the ‘March for our Lives’ in Washington mainly because of their inspiration. 

If you could reach out to kids today sitting in the classroom -what wise advice would you offer them about their future? Try to figure out how you can do things to fulfill your passions. I would also try to identify a mentor. I don’t think I even knew the word mentor when I was at WHS, but later in my life I began to appreciate how important mentorship can be.  Relationships with teachers at WHS helped me to realize how valuable learning was, and teaching, and just how satisfying a friendship was with someone who was maybe 15 years older than I was at the time.  I want to mention by name, Bob Spicuzza; the wrestling coach at WHS.  He was just beginning his career as a coach when I was there but later becoming a member of Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame coach at WHS. He was just a very good guy and mentor to me. Relationships are very important. I guess what it really boils down to is to find your place. Thinking about it, it was my involvement here at Washington High School. Classes all blur together, but my friendships and activities are what I recall most during my time at Washington High School.

For more information about the Washington Alumni Association, contact Linda Durrenberg at or 414-873-0529.

Are you an MPS Alum who is giving back to your community?  Do you know of an MPS graduate who is making a difference in their community? Send information to the Alumni Hub;

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Phone: 414-475-8633

Alumni Engagement Associate:
David Valdés

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