The class of 2020 faces a graduation season that is unlike anything seen before. While some schools move forward with in-person graduation ceremonies, many have scrambled to creatively meet the challenges created by the need to socially distance and limit contact. There are drive-through graduation ceremonies, virtual graduation ceremonies, and car parades past student and faculty housing. Needless to say, this graduation season will be one for the history books.
I wanted to see what graduation looked like 100 years ago, for the class of 1920 – another graduating class that lived through a series of unprecedented challenges. During their teen years this class witnessed labor unrest, a global pandemic, and a World War. The statement from the class of 1920 gives us a little insight into how these events impacted them.
This was a class that started its high school experience just before the Everett Massacre occurred in November of 1916, after months of labor unrest had rocked their city and their region. As alluded to in their essay, they had a 6-week ‘vacation’ when the Influenza pandemic that knocked the world to its knees closed Washington schools in the fall of 1918. Some of these students left to go to war in the middle of their schooling, seeing action in the hellish battlefields of France, only to return to Everett High School to finish their classes.
Despite all this turmoil, these students remained essentially what they were: teens. Young people with hobbies, inside jokes, and a fierce sense of loyalty and belonging to their cohort. You can read in their statements, their activity pages, and in their class seniorscopes a little bit about who they were. They had gotten involved with the Service League and Red Cross to help aid the war effort, and I suspect to help pack gauze for the influenza response. Their story about the freshman year candy sale triumph must have been a particular point of pride, because they also boasted about it in their junior year statement in 1919. Competition between the different classes must have been fierce, with the hazing of incoming freshman a known threat and the frequent jibes you see in other annuals making fun of underclassmen.
They loved music, and flirting with each other, and making up goofy nicknames. There were slackers and overachievers, and heartbreakers. They were sassy and nerdy and, well, teenagers.
Back in the earlier days of Everett High School you often had smaller graduating classes who finished their studies after the first semester of their final year. The 1920 Nesika has a section for a class of 1919 1/2, which from the sounds of it was a proud group of misfits.
These were students who were transfers, or those who briefly left school to work, or in this period fought in a war. For whatever reason, they returned to earn their last few credits and move on with their lives. Some were destined to follow in their fathers’ footsteps into the mills and logging camps, while others continued on with their education either taking junior college classes at Everett High School or entering the University of Washington. Many of these students were probably the first in their families to seek a college degree.
This blog isn’t meant to be a discussion about how other kids may have had things worse at some time in the past. Instead, it’s a celebration of the resilience of youth. This is certainly not the graduation that the class of 2020 imagined themselves having. Despite that, our students are constantly adapting and learning to meet the challenges that they face during this extraordinary time. Just as the class of 1920 had to figure out their next steps after they made it through turmoil, so are today’s teens trying to figure out where the future will take them. Maybe that will be a new job, or off to college, or some other new adventure. I hope that like the class of 1920, they will be embarking on the next phase of their journey bolstered by the strength and support of their peers and will meet each new experience with the same sense of humor and pride gained from their shared experiences.
Best wishes to the class of 2020 – we’re proud of you!