Class of ’86 looks back to its roots

Photo provided:
Students fiddling with their tassels after graduation in 1986.Photo provided: Students fiddling with their tassels after graduation in 1986.

 

Photo provided: Students pose before the senior ball of the class of 1986.

Photo provided:
Students pose before the senior ball of the class of 1986.

BY INDIANA NASH

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA- As the Reunion Committee of the class of 1986 prepared for their 30-year
celebration this summer, they came to realize that their classmates didn’t rest on their laurels
after graduation.
However, they’ve also managed to keep in close contact with one another, no matter how many
miles away they now live from their hometown.
“There’s something special about the group. Growing up we were close, but we’re almost as
close now as we were in high school,” Katherine Detrick, a member of the Reunion Committee,
said of the class.
As Detrick and a few other classmates have gone about organizing the reunion, they’ve found
that members of their class went on to pursue careers in education, law, film production and health, with some taking on leadership roles in their fields.
Detrick said that she decided to be a teacher because of her experiences
growing up in Niskayuna.
“There was a day camp that the Parks and Recreation Department ran for a while for elementary school kids and I was a counselor in training for that, and I quickly discovered that I loved spending time with kids. Then I worked at a movie theater for a few years
and my manager would always have me train other workers so I found out that I had a knack for explaining things to other people,” Detrick said.
She has been teaching in the South Colonie district since 1990 and is now teaching sixth grade at Lisha Kill Middle School.
“I still remember my own sixth grade year very clearly at Iroquois Middle School and I remember I had Mr. Hunt and Mr. Ash. I always talk about my memories there with my class
now,” Detrick said.
Class president Vikram Akula continued to pursue leadership roles after graduation. He attended
Tufts University for his bachelor’s in philosophy and then directly after college, he moved to India to work with several grass-roots programs that provide microfinancing for poor Indian women.
Akula was involved in these programs for around three years when he was stopped short by an
encounter with one woman.
“She was very poor and emaciated and she looked up at me and said, ‘Am I not poor too?’ That
really put me in my place because I thought I was doing good and helping a lot of people. Her question made me realize there were many more people who needed access to finance,” Akula said.

At the time, the program he was working with served about 40 villages. But they did not have
suffi cient funding to expand. So Akula began to rethink the structure of the program. “So I had this idea to turn it into a commercial organization,” he said.
This was the seed of what later became SKS Microfinance, a company Akula founded that eventually went public and was able to help 7.2 million women in India to get out of poverty.
Akula was the chairman of the company until 2012, when he decided to step down.
He is now working on his second book and is continuing his work in India’s microfinancing
industry with Vaya Finserv, a company that seeks to provide assistance to low-income groups
in India.
“I studied philosophy in college and that was when the idea of going back to work in India really
crystallized for me,” Akula said.
However, Akula still credits the entire English and history departments at Niskayuna High
School for introducing him to the humanities.
Another class member, Joshua Seftel, also went on to Tufts University after graduation, where he became engrossed in storytelling through the medium of film.
“Growing up, my dad used to take me and my sisters to the library by Union College. My
sisters would come out with piles of books but I would always walk out with piles of VHS tapes, which were mostly documentaries. That was one of the ways I would get my information. … I loved the medium,” Seftel said.
Directly after graduating from Tufts, Seftel traveled to Romania
to film his first documentary, “Lost and Found.” It followed the tragic experiences of orphans in Romania, many of whom had been treated inhumanely and had been
placed in run down orphanages. In 1991, he received his first Emmy nomination for the
film. Shortly after the film was released, thousands of Romanian children were adopted by American families.
“When I was younger, I was drawn to concrete ways of changing the world. I went to Bosnia
during the war and filmed there. I wanted to tell stories that were exploding at the seams. But then I became interested in stories that are closer to home but have a little bit of nuance to them,” Seftel said.
Since “Lost and Found,” Seftel has directed several other films (including “Taking on the Kennedys,” “Ennis’ Gift,” “War Ink” and “The American Life”) in a variety of places.  However, Seftel is proud of his Schenectady County roots.
“I’m doing a web series with my mom now. She still lives in Niskayuna … and I would love to do
a film in Schenectady someday,” Seftel said.
Until such an opportunity arises, he plans on working on a few of his other films and web
series in New York City with his wife Erica and daughter Lillian.

Another class member, Eric Aronowitz, went on to a career in sports medicine.

“Growing up I played tennis and I knew I wanted to be a doctor . . . my father was a dentist and I saw what his lifestyle was like. But I always knew during tennis in high school and college that it was what I wanted to do,” Aronowitz said.

After graduation, he went on to the University of Vermont and then to medical school in Syracuse. His clinicals and fellowships took him across the country to Cleveland for a little while, but Aronowitz ended up moving back to Niskayuna and now practices sports medicine in Schenectady.

“I hadn’t planned on moving back originally, but as I was searching, this area is just the best for what I do. I get to serve all the colleges in the area,” Aronowitz said. He lives in Niskayuna with his wife Ann, and two daughters Anna and Riley.
The reunion of the class of 1986 is scheduled July 15 to 17, with dinners at the Centre Street Pub and at the Van Dyck. Weather permitting, there will also be a kayak outing, golf at the Schenectady Municipal course and a few rounds of mixed-doubles tennis.

Favorite Class Memories:

“I played varsity tennis and we had won two consecutive sectional championships in a row. In my senior year, I played number three, and I had to win my match in order for the team to go on to the final, and I ended up winning. It was just a great moment for the team.

–Vikram Akula

“For Niska-Day one year, the high school ran a softball tournament. It was supposed to be that every grade had their own team, but me and a few friends decided to form our own team. We called ourselves The Revolution, we made t-shirts with stencils and everything. When it came time to play, we rode onto the field in an old convertible. It wasn’t serious, we were just having fun.

But we had to play against the senior team and they were good. So when we ended up winning, it turned into this cool underdog victory story.”

–Joshua Seftel

“Just the camaraderie that I had with the tennis team. It may have been an individual sport but we were close.”

–Eric Aronowitz