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June: A month for endings, new beginnings and history


I have recently discovered that a new Alma Mater song has been composed. Here, perhaps for the last time, I will print the words and I hope every loyal alumnus will sing it lustily!

Proudly stands our Alma Mater
Towering high above the town
Holding firm the hearts she gathered
Trusting each will gain renown!

Loyal to our Alma Mater
Cherished by a common tie:
We will sing the praises ever
Of our dear old Pittsford High!

Chorus:
Onward then, we must not falter
Ever strive to reach the goal;
Knowing that our Alma Mater
Courage brings to every soul!

That wonderful sixth month of the year - famous for weddings, Regents exams, vacations, the longest day of the year, school ending and graduation!

Graduation - that word conjures up so many memories for each one of us who have experienced it. For some it means a beginning and yet for others it denotes an ending -the ending of classes, as we knew them- either from High School or from college or perhaps Grad school. For some it meant wearing the traditional cap and gown and processing in a solemn line to the hall where there were speeches, songs, addresses and diplomas. Sometimes the ceremony takes place in an elegant building and for others it means a hard chair in the out-of-doors.

I thought it would be interesting to compare Pittsford High School graduations by decades and to reminisce a little. The School was constructed on Lincoln Avenue, now known to many residents as the Spiegel Center, in 1890's. That structure burned and the new school was finished in 1918. We have many photos of that wonderful school considered by many experts of that era to be the most modern and up to date school in the entire region. There were earlier years (such as 1916 and the class that held yearly reunions up until the 1970's) but in the year of 1920, there were 25 students who received their high school diplomas.

The ceremony took place in the "spacious" auditorium (which also served as the gymnasium during the week when school was in session). Wooden chairs were set up by the custodian and the stage was decorated with flowers from parent's gardens. The members of the Board of Education and the high school principal were seated in comfortable chairs on the stage. After what seemed an interminable length of time, after speeches, addresses and musical selections from students and guests, the graduates, who were seated in alphabetical order, were paraded across the stage and received their diplomas and/or awards from the president of the Board. The members of the graduating class were allowed to change their mortarboard tassels from the right to the left.

In 1930 there were 29 graduates who followed much the same procedure and process as the class of 1920. The interesting thing was that due to the small classes, anyone in the community who wished to attend could do so and there would be plenty of seats available.

The graduating class of 1940 numbered 33 and the auditorium was full to overflowing. There had always been the tradition of arch bearers- girls who were the high achievers from the junior class, carrying floral arches that led the graduates to their seats in the front row. Also the school orchestra seated below and in front of the stage performed the traditional processional "Pomp and Circumstance".

1950 found 47 graduating seniors. The evening was very warm and the graduates were squirming under their gowns- white for the girls and blue for the boys. The school colors were purple and gold, but graduation gowns did not come in those hues in that year! After diplomas were distributed, everyone loudly sang the Alma Mater - even the guests.

By 1952, the new Sutherland High School was open and operating. The traditional graduation was held there in the new, very spacious auditorium. It was not until the classes became so much larger that Sutherland's graduation was held on the side lawn. In 1968 there were 281 seniors.

Mendon High School opened in 1972 and the senior classes were much smaller. However, graduation in 1976 was held outside with the graduates on the football field and the guests on the bleachers. One graduate remembers being attacked by swarming bugs!

In more recent years, the graduation exercises have been held in large auditoriums in Rochester. This year's class will receive their diplomas in the RIT Gordon Field House with Sutherland in the morning and Mendon in the afternoon. There will be approximately 490 students graduating - a far cry from the 15 to 20 youths of yesteryear.

I must include a caveat here. I have spoken with many people asking them about where, when, and how they remember their high school final day. It is amazing how different people have different memories of the very same important event!