Remember High School Assemblies?

  • Janet Keyes File Photo/Janet Keyes—

  • Greenfield High School circa. 1987. Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • High school dance Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • Victor Borge Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • Janet Keyes Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • High school assembly Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

For the Recorder
Published: 9/8/2020 9:00:32 AM

“Assembly” period in junior high school and high school was a mixed bag. Early in the year, we heard speeches from students wanting to be elected class president or student council president. Then there were movies. Who could forget “The Making of Steel,” an oft-repeated movie filled with colorful blast furnace scenes and molten steel being extruded into rods and sheets? I'm not sure if those scenes were all actually in the movie, as I generally used that time slot for dozing or for catching up on the reading of assignments for a later class.

Mostly, I remember overhearing soft moans of “not again!”

Another movie was on the subject of etiquette, specifically on how a young gentleman should ask a young lady for a date to go to a movie or to a school dance. The young gentlemen in these films seldom were wearing jeans or khakis and the young ladies almost never wore outfits that we could recognize as fashionable, as the subject of proper etiquette was deemed to be somewhat timeless. The dated hairstyles for males and females also drew some giggles.

I don't recall the formula for asking a girl for a date, but I do remember that the film emphasized that a young gentleman goes to the door of the girl's home and knocks politely. (He never drives up and stops and toots the horn.) After being ushered in, he introduces himself to the parents and shakes hands, using a politely firm handshake.

Several years later we saw the character Eddie Haskell, on the “Leave It To Beaver” television show greeting Mrs. Cleaver with his oiliest, most insincere politeness. That forcefully brought back memories of those pathetic etiquette movies.

One of the most painful aspects of these movies involved the coordination of the sound and the pictures, or the lack of it. Inevitably, the spoken dialogue came out of mouths that started moving about one or two seconds before or after the spoken words. I remember having intense frustration over the task of trying to follow the dialogue. Fortunately, we were able to joke about the sound-and-picture disconnection and artificial manners in those outdated films.

One generally fascinating assembly was truly memorable.

The man was demonstrating some principles of science. He kept us attentive for the whole 50 minutes, showing, for example, how he could have 20,000 volts of electricity passing from one hand to the other in a brilliant light display while assuring us that the volts could not harm him as long as there were no amps. He also talked about the making of glass, explaining that glass that cools very quickly is fragile and breaks easily. Conversely, glass that cools slowly is incredibly hard and non-breakable. He showed this with a blown-glass bottle. He demonstrated the extreme hardness of the slow-cooled exterior of the bottle by using it as a hammer to pound a nail into a board. Then he proceeded to show the fragility of fast-cooled glass by explaining that this particular glass bottle had been fast-cooled on the interior while being slow-cooled on the exterior.

He then set the bottle on a table and dropped a single penny into it. The bottle immediately shattered into a thousand pieces.

That was a memorable assembly program.

The most unforgettable Greenfield High School assembly program featured a visit from Victor Borge, the incredibly talented and funny entertainer. (Apparently, small high schools could have expensive programs made available through some government grants in those days.) I was not in high school when Victor Borge came to Greenfield, but I heard about it from my older siblings. Borge went through all the antics you could later see on television, playing the piano brilliantly and with slapstick comedic falls from the awkwardly placed piano bench. Then he went into his infamous explanation of how language could be much more understandable if the helpful punctuation marks could be incorporated into spoken language. For example, a period would be indicated by a “ptt” sound accompanying a mid-air poke by the index finger. A question mark was a little harder to do. It involved a “swishh” then “ptt” sound while tracing a question mark in mid-air. After illustrating this, he read a paragraph from a story with dialogue.

I have seen this act on television and found it absolutely hilarious.

The students at Greenfield High School that day got the full show and repeated the antics of air punctuation at home for their families. My siblings did a great job of reproducing this.

Additionally, my future husband, Allan, was also in that audience. As it happened, he was in an aisle seat right across from the most intimidating and formidable English teacher in town. Her name was Mrs. Studer — she is long-gone and greatly respected, but never forgotten. While all the students were laughing and whooping at Mr. Borge's performance, she sat icily still, unmoved and unamused. She neither laughed nor smiled at any point in his whole program. This entertained Allan almost as much as the show.

Ah, what memories. I suppose today's students have no need for entertaining assemblies at school.

Janet Keyes is a longtime Greenfield resident, a retired nurse, and a hospital volunteer. She is a leader of the Greenfield Senior Center's writing group, Well Done Writers. To see more of the group's writing visit welldonewriters.com.




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