They had the kinds of experiences most elementary and middle school students can only dream about: national and international travel, audiences that included world leaders, they even made soundtracks for movies and television shows.
For 65 years, the students at the prestigious American Boychoir School in Princeton, N.J. (formerly Columbus Boychoir School), have enjoyed the kinds of privileges available only to the very talented, the very lucky, or both.
But if the charges of several men interviewed by ABCNEWS' Nightline are true, the privileges for some came at a terrible price: repeated molestation over many months by the men who were charged with shaping their talent.
The story, reported by Nightline with the help of the New York Times, which published an extensive account on April 16, has echoes of the scandal engulfing the Catholic Church. There are allegations of extensive mistreatment of young people over a period of years that was apparently ignored by those with the power to stop it, and victims were too ashamed or too frightened to come forward until it was too late.
Many of the charges of abuse focus on the choir's director, Donald Hanson, who taught at the school from 1970 to 1982, when he was fired for sexual misconduct involving two different students, although the school did not disclose that fact to alumni and others until years later.
Alumni interviewed by ABCNEWS said numerous figures other than Hanson also had sexual contact with students at the school, which in turn motivated students to abuse each other.
‘He Was My Teacher’
"There was a tremendous sexualized environment in the school," says John Hardwicke Jr., who enrolled as a seventh grader in what was then the Columbus Boychoir School in 1969. Hardwicke says he remembers seeing a group of boys touching another little boy in his bed on his first weeks at the school but did not understand what it meant.
Teacher Donald Hanson arrived at the school in 1970. Hardwicke says within a very short period of time, Hanson became a friend.
"He took special interest in me and liked me a lot… And of course he was my teacher and I was away from home… and that's why I appreciated his attention," Hardwicke says. "… early on, he began to do things like put his hand on my shoulders … things that were probably appropriate but became fairly quickly inappropriate as he rested his hand there too long."
When they escalated, Harwicke says, things quickly went out of control, beginning with a weekend visit to Hardwicke's own house. With Hardwicke's parents asleep, Hanson invited the 12 year-old to join him in the guest room, where Hanson began licking him all over his body.
Upon return to campus, Hardwicke says, sexual contact with the choir master became a daily event, ending only when Hardwicke left the school after his voice changed. Through it all he says he never told anyone, in part because he believed school officials knew about and condoned the behavior.
"I think that I felt the friendship with Mr. Hanson was the most important thing," says Hardwicke. "I guess that in my mind I had determined that I had not been hurt somehow. I think we do everything we can, particularly boys, to feel as that we have not been hurt. We will make whatever mental manipulations are necessary to think that everything is OK. We don't like to call ourselves damaged or hurt in any way."