As Irwin Weinberg stood on the stage at Meyers High School auditorium, he was flanked at each side of the dais by an American flag. The last time the noted stamp collector stood inside that auditorium, the flag had just 48 stars.
Weinberg, 84, graduated from Meyers in 1945. His life since then has been a whirlwind of world travel, business success and his rise to the upper echelons of international philatelic circles. He was invited back to his alma matter on Tuesday to share his story and pass along his message of entrepreneurship and life lessons.
It was an invitation Weinberg always envisioned, just for a different reason.
He always believed he'd be invited back to speak to the typing class after he graduated to discuss his techniques and skills that garnered him the only medal he's ever received.
Instead, the invitation came 67 years later but he was still touched and honored, and he made the most of it.
In addition to talking to the students for nearly 30 minutes, a documentary True Rarity: The Amazing Story of Irwin Weinberg, was screened for the more than 75 advanced English and Social Seminar students.
Before the afternoon program started, Weinberg, his family and others ate lunch and toured the school – where Weinberg met his wife of 48 years, Jean, and obtained the life skills needed to succeed including typing and bookkeeping.
He said the school and its teachers influenced my life tremendously. And he wanted to express how much the skills learned in high school and the inspiration and influence of teachers and other school officials could have on one's life.
High school guidance counselor Diane McFarlane and Principal Michael Elias said they try to bring in guest speakers to convey the real world to students and offer guidance.
When it's someone who actually graduated from Meyers, Elias said, it makes the speech more pertinent.
I hope they walk away with a sense of tradition and a sense of optimism that anything can be accomplished once they leave and take their education from Meyers with them, said Elias, a 1983 Meyers grad.
While introducing Weinberg as a famous Mohawk, Elias told students the man who once purchased and then sold the most expensive stamp in the world is someone who walked the same hallways you do today and sat in the same classrooms you sit in today.
He did note that the world in 1945 was a very different place but the halls and walls were there.
Weinberg said his message for students is clear. You can make of your life whatever you want if you have the fire in the belly and a will to accomplish something. And, he said, if one student who hears his message takes it to heart and does something with it, he will have added another accomplishment to his long list of personal successes.