Memories of another graduation season

Cartoon of a man sitting on a riverbank, fishing. The word "seniors" is written above him.

Senior title page from the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

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.

Senior Class A's Statement - a full page of text with two portraits on the top - one boy and one girl.

Page one of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Senior class A's statement. This is a full page of text

Page 2 of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

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.

Yearbook page showing student portraits and information about their activities

Page from the Senior Class A section of the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

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.

Chart showing stats about different class members of senior class A

A page from the Seniorscope section for Senior Class A – 1920. Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

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.

Class of 1919 1/2 statement

The statement from the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

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.

Yearbook page with student portraits and activities

A page of students from Senior Class 1919 1/2 in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika. Everett Public Library

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!

Music Review: 100 Years Ago Tomorrow

100 Years Ago Tomorrow Cover Art

Last year the Everett Public Library undertook a project to re-frame the conversation about the series of events that had become known as the Everett Massacre. It was the 100th anniversary of the most notorious chapter in Everett’s history, and there was a desire on all parts to move away from the usual recitation of ‘who shot first?’ speculations. Early on, members of a variety of historical organizations and City offices gathered together to brainstorm how to best approach the topic, and one name was repeatedly put forth: Jason Webley.

Jason, a hometown favorite known for his eclectic and often political mix of folk, punk, and alternative music, had recently captivated local audiences with his Margaret project. For those unfortunate enough to have missed that one, it was a night of music, and later a book, that was inspired by the chance discovery of a scrapbook in a dumpster in San Francisco. By all accounts, Jason Webley not only created music that night, he made magic out of local history; his rare talent seemed to be a natural fit to tell the story of the Everett Massacre.

As Jason freely admits, he had some reservations about undertaking the project, but thankfully for all he changed his mind. From there, he was able to assemble a remarkably-talented team of musicians and artists and began working with them on his concept. At least this is the part of the story most people know from his telling. What I think gets lost, but is incredibly important, is the amount of time and effort Jason himself spent poring over sources related to the Everett Massacre. Jason was a regular in the Northwest History Room, spending hours talking with David Dilgard and peppering him with questions. His curiosity about the topic was passionate, and seemingly unquenchable; you could tell that when he undertook a project it consumed him until it was completed. Emails requesting clarifications or more resources arrived at all times of the day, and from all over the globe (Jason seems to constantly be traveling). There was such a strong desire on the part of Jason, and by extension the other artists, to get everything just right that you couldn’t help but be incredibly excited to see the final result.

Needless to say, the final product met and exceeded expectations. You could feel the audience ‘getting it.’ All the nuances about what is an extremely complicated series of events. All the tragedy, and all the missed opportunities to avoid disaster. All the harm done in oversimplifying how we see historical figures, even those that can be clearly painted as villains. Hauntingly, the show also made easy ties to current events that were unfolding in November of 2016; the same fear, animosity, and sense of mistrust that inflamed passions in 1916 seemed to be permeating the political climate 100 years later. The audience was rapt and quick to respond. At the end of the night the overwhelming question was: did anyone record this?

Well, as it turns out, yes and no. At the time, some video of the event was uploaded to YouTube, but nobody had made a professional recording. Thankfully, due to the high-level of interest, Jason and his colleagues decided to meet up and record their pieces in studio and to produce the album via an Indiegogo campaign. The project was fully funded, with all proceeds going to the ACLU. I’m happy to say that we now have a handful of copies available for check out so that those who were there could relive the event, and those who missed it can take part in their own way. Listeners to this powerful collection of history and protest in musical form will not be disappointed. Place your holds now!

For a preview, and a little behind the story information about the project, check out Jason Webley’s intro video for the project.