Times Past: The 1957 graduation war-of-wills

  • KEYES

  • KEYES

  • Editors and writers of The Exponent pose for a 1956 Greenfield High School yearbook photo. Contributed photo/Janet Keyes

Published: 5/25/2018 3:53:50 PM

May brings us thoughts of spring finally arriving, and memories of the month of May in times long ago.

In elementary school, there were vague acknowledgements of old traditions like May baskets and May poles. In junior high, May brought stirrings of spring fever with the arrival of warm days, coinciding with the late-in-the-year boredom of sitting through classes where no new material was introduced, and some teachers wanted to do comprehensive review of the work we had done through the school year. In high school, there was more of the same, but somehow life was more interesting in high school.

My friends and I had more free time, or so it seemed, because in Greenfield, the junior high dismissal time was 3:15 p.m., moments before the school bus came. The high school day ended at 2 p.m., so there was lots of time for extra-curricular activities before that same bus arrived at the high school.

My friends and I spent some of our time after school in the classroom of Bob Casey, who was the guidance counselor for our class and the advisor for The Exponent, our school newspaper. Our gang included Ann Skinner, Roz Barclay, Marge French, Judy Dallas, Janet Haskins and myself. The enthusiasm for journalism led Ann and Roz to become co-editors of The Exponent at the start of our junior year. We were on our way.

One of the first things Ann and Roz did was to insist that as editors, they should have the responsibility to “lay out” the paper, deciding exactly where each article would go, and on which page.

Mr. Casey argued that the way it had always been done was easier; the editors submitted the articles to the print shop, and Mr. Taylor decided on the physical layout for each page. But Ann and Roz were not interested in the way things had “always” been done. They wanted to make the whole Exponent experience into a learning situation for them, and this meant having true editors’ discretion and decision-making.

Sensing the determination of these two upstarts, Mr. Casey gave in. Somewhere along the way, the editors also had full access to The Exponent “office,” the tiny projection room above the balcony at the back of the Greenfield High School auditorium. Access to this room was by way of a narrow stairway leading up from the main lobby. Our editors worked fairly closely with Mr. Taylor, sometimes arguing with him about where the articles would go. In typical teenage fashion, they sometimes referred to Mr. Taylor as “Joe O.” when he was not around to hear them.

I don’t recall that they made any radical changes to the appearance of The Exponent, except to eliminate the gossip column as unnecessary and undignified. I recently learned from Marge French that her father, a faculty member, occasionally heard teachers’ room comments about “what that Skinner gang is up to now.” We have no idea what may have been the subject of those comments, but perhaps those conversations came near the end of our senior year.

In May of that year, our class was deeply involved in discussions of which graduation gowns to order. The faculty advisor insisted that the nice, wrinkle-proof, bluish-gray gowns that were “always” used before would be the natural choice. Our class hated them. The faint bluish tinge made them a natural choice for Turners Falls High School, but not for us.

We argued a lot with the all-knowing adults. The class officers were on board with us regarding a change. Our proposal was to have boys wear dark green gowns, and have the girls wear white gowns. We visualized walking down the aisle of the auditorium two-by-two, alternating two boys in green, then two girls in white.

The faculty was horrified. “We always have the class officers march in first,” they protested. We pointed out that we had two boys and two girls as officers. “But the pro merito students always march in next, and there are more girls than boys in pro merito.” We honor students suggested that might be a little elitist, and there were plenty of intelligent boys who could walk interspersed with the rest of us.

The faculty then bewailed the fact that near the end of our graduation line, there might be a lot of either white or green robes, since we probably did not have an equal number of males and females in our class. We were prepared with facts: our class was about evenly divided between boys and girls. The female class secretary and treasurer would walk in first, then the male president and vice-president, followed by the rest of the class white-green-white-green, and the last pair walking would be females in white. There would be no long tail of either green or white. We enjoyed this contest of wills. The faculty members did not.

At that point, the faculty turned to a tactic of ridicule. “You will look like a big, long, green-and-white caterpillar walking down the aisle! How can you do this to your classmates?” Our class officers had wisely polled the class, and they suggested that we put the matter to a vote. Needless to say, the Class of 1957 won that argument. The class voted for green and white gowns.

Plenty of graduating classes in the subsequent 61 years have kept the green gowns for boys and white gowns for girls. The surviving members of the “Skinner gang” are still proud to have been a part of the memories of that May war-of-wills at Greenfield High School.


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