Lowell High School’s Sesquicentennial Commencement Exercise

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 @ 9:00AM – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Graduation Notes

by Carole Neal

To mark the 150th anniversary of Lowell High School, the Alumni Association invited alumni from certain class years (those celebrating a significant reunion this year) to march in the processional. Class years invited were 1996, 1986, 1976, 1966, 1956, 1946, 1936, etc. Alumni were instructed to arrive at the auditorium by 7:45 am and proceed to Larkin Hall.

As I drove along Larkin Street and crossed Grove, I saw a “sea of red.” The graduates were gathering in front of the auditorium. Both boys and girls wore red caps and gowns.

After taking a few pictures of the marquee and general shots of the gathering graduates, I went inside and to Larkin Hall, but first made a stop in the ladies room. A group of graduates were inside and I offered my “Congratulations” and “Best Wishes,” and said to them “You’re looking at a graduate of the Class of 1966.” They, like my nephew Isaac and niece Lauren when I attended Isaac’s graduation from Overland High School, Aurora, CO, in May, were duly unimpressed!!!!

A teacher standing inside the door to Larkin Hall asked if I were a teacher. I replied that I was an alumnus. I asked what subject he taught and he replied, “Spanish.” So I offered my greeting, “Buenos dias!” and mentioned I’d taken one semester of Spanish and two years of French in high school.

Another alum approached me and it turned out to be my classmate Ed Tang. We chatted. Other alumni arrived. A teacher, Ms. Gwendolyn Fuller, greeted me and asked what year I graduated. She said she was a graduate of 1964 and I assumed she meant from Lowell, but she corrected me saying she graduated from Berkeley High, if I’m not mistaken. We alums then saw Terence Abad, Director of Alumni Relations. Terence passed out caps, gowns, medallions, and tassels. The caps and gowns were black, the lanyard for the medallion was red and white, and the tassel was red and white. We were told we either could wear the cap or not; that teachers were not wearing caps (though I did see a few with them on). It was offered that if you didn’t want to wear the cap, you could carry it under your arm. Alumni were instructed to have their tassels on the left. After all, they had graduated. Pre-made signs for the classes of 1986, 1976, 1966, 1956, and 1936 were on hand. There were alums there also from some “in between classes,” like 1962, 1965, and 1979. Representing the Class of 1966 were Ed Tang, Stephen Cornell, Hanni Perlmann (visiting from Chile!), and myself. Different ones had cameras so we took pictures in our caps and gowns with the class signs.

“Pomp and Circumstance.” We marched in directly behind the graduates, with the most recent alumni (Class of 1986) first, followed by the others in descending order by class year. There were two alumni from the Class of 1936. We probably could have stood some rehearsal time. Those in front kept marching down the center aisle and then turned left, whereas the rest of us stopped and moved to take seats directly behind the graduates, but someone then told us to continue marching down the aisle. We did, turned left, didn’t see any seats there, and marched back up the outside aisle and took seats behind the graduates. In hindsight, I think they probably wanted us to march down the center aisle and then back up so that the alums and banner signs could be seen. The videographer was upstairs in the back. As we entered the auditorium behind the graduates, Principal Cheng happened to be moving about in the back of the auditorium and I heard him say something like, “wonderful,” or “beautiful” in terms of the alumni participation.

The main floor was for the graduates, faculty, choir, and band. All guests sat upstairs.

I was told there were 637 graduating in the Class of 2006. All the speakers were good and their comments relevant and the program moved right along. In his speech, Principal Cheng acknowledged the alums. He also mentioned that they were able to hold the graduation in this venue because Mayor Gavin Newsom picked up the tab. Cheng took note that the person after whom the auditorium is named was an influence in his life and recounted how he met Bill Graham. It was around 1991 I believe he said, when Bill Graham was “principal for a day” at Lowell and Principal Cheng provided detail on that entire experience and how Bill Graham offered anyone who wanted tickets to an upcoming music concert. In October of that year, Graham, 60, and two others died in a helicopter crash. Cheng recited a couple of inspirational messages that were offered by Graham when he was principal for a day and encouraged the graduates to heed them.

Students came forward to receive their diplomas by Registry Class. The Registry Class teacher by him or herself, or in a few cases with another person, called the name of each graduating student, and mentioned special honors, if any. The student then stepped forward to receive his or her diploma from Principal Cheng. The official photographer took a picture of each as they shook the principal’s hand and received the diploma. Stephen Cornell had asked that we cheer when his daughter’s name was called, and we did.

While the 637 graduates were receiving their diplomas, we quietly had little conversations among ourselves. At one point, Stephen came over to where Ed and I were seated and said, “Here’s a bit of trivia for our class. Do you know which classmate is serving time in jail?” Neither of us did so he said the person’s name and that he’d been a member of the SLA, Symbionese Liberation Army. Ed mentioned that one of our classmates is principal at Wallenberg (sp?) High School.

When it came time for presentation of the academic achievement awards, Principal Cheng noted that this class was making history as 147 students had achieved a GPA of 4.0 or greater. He called each of their names and had them all come to the stage. Of that group, five graduates achieved a GPA of between 6.82 and 6.71. Those five were called forward and presented with a special award.

Before the academic achievement awards, special awards were presented: the Carl Koenig Award, the Bob Anino “Lowell Spirit” Award, and the Paul Lucey Distinguished Service Award. The Lucey award went to the student body president, C. J. Mourning, and to the class president Jessica Yip. Mr. Lucey was on hand to co-present, wearing his trademark red jacket (he wore a red jacket at the “Tribute to Teachers” Banquet, also).

Jack Anderson and other Alumni Board members also sat on the dais. Mr. Anderson co-presented some of the special awards.

Othello Jefferson, Class of 1990 or 91, I think, is the Music Director. He was a student of the late Johnny Land who was Music Director at Lowell for a number of years. Though he was on hand to direct the choir, he also marched in with the alumni group.

The choir and the band both were excellent. I think of how sometimes with high school music, you think to yourself, “They need to practice some more,” but the songs the choir sang had beautiful harmony and presentation, and the band played flawlessly, in my opinion. Stephen Cornell’s daughter, Lauren Brown-Cornell, was a member of the band. She played the flute.

After the diplomas were conferred and all of the special awards presented, Principal Cheng asked the graduates to stand for the singing of the Lowell Hymn. We alums stood with them and sang. Principal Cheng made special acknowledgment of the two alums representing the Class of 1935 and 1936 (husband and wife but I’m not remembering their names, though I did take a picture of them).

The graduates marched out as the band played John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” As they were doing so, the official photographer came to where we were standing and said, once the graduates had filed out, he’d like the alums to gather for some photos. We took a picture first on and in front of the stage; then gathered where the choir had been and took several shots. I asked if copies could be ordered. He said we could go to their Web site for information.  Hanni and her husband had left the graduation early, while the diplomas were being conferred, so she was not in these group pictures.

We moved back into Larkin Hall to remove the caps and gowns. Terence had told us earlier that we could keep the medallion and the tassel. I picked up a copy of the special edition Lowell paper. It has the speeches of the Class President, Historian, Salutatorian, and that of the Student Body President, all of which were made at the graduation. Some of us were going to lunch so we headed out to walk the block or so to Soluna Café, on McAllister off of Larkin.

Our lunch group included Terence Abad, Jack Anderson, Ed Tang, and a female from the Class of 1976 (not remembering her name), Claudia Wolff Eshoo (Class of 1967), her Dad was a Lowell PE teacher, Wendy Shinbori (Class of 1968), Roxanne (Class of 1976), a lady from the class of 1956 (not remembering her name), the couple from the Class of 1936, Andrew Williams (Class of 1979), and myself.

While we waited for our meals I commented to Jack Anderson regarding the Mayor’s proclamation that he’d read at the Tribute to Teachers banquet and wondered why the mayor does not mention his Lowell connection. Terence Abad said, yes – his (Gavin Newsom’s) mother was a Lowell graduate, class of 1964. I always recall my sister, Class of 1964, mentioning her schoolmates who were twins, Ann and Tessa Menzies. Tessa, now deceased, was Gavin Newsom’s mother.

The lunch was courtesy of the Alumni Association. Everyone seemed to have a good time chatting and reminiscing. I wondered aloud if Lowell still had yell leaders and song girls. Claudia said they don’t have yell leaders but now have “spirit” leaders. Sounds like there is no more, “Give ‘em the axe.” Claudia is to e-mail me the names of those from my class who attended the Tribute to Teachers Banquet.

Ed Tang had said he would put the pictures he took today at our Class Web site.

About 1:25 pm we all started to leave. Terence thanked us for participating, saying we were “pioneers.” This is the first of what they hope will become a Lowell tradition. I shook Jack Anderson’s hand and said I didn’t take a class with him but wanted to greet him.

Though it had been overcast early in the morning, when we exited the auditorium after the graduation, the sun was shining brightly – a beautiful day for a graduation.

All in all, I am glad that I was a part of this experience. Though I did not know anyone in the graduating class, I still was happy for these young people and wish them all well.

Copyright © 2006 Carole E. Neal – All rights reserved