A few people I know would just as soon forget about the time they spent in high school, with all the studying, homework and sometimes feeling the pressure to excel. For some people, graduating from high school is a sense of release, finally obtaining the freedom they desire as they break the bonds of their childhood.
Not me. My senior year at Greenville High School was one of the best years of my life. Not that it didn’t have its share of downs to go with the ups, but the good times during that year of school were so much better than the bad times were bad.
I set a goal. Going into my senior year, I looked at all of the grades I had accumulated so far from the ninth-11th grades. In the ninth grade, the schools started listing the grade numbers and not the letters. To be an honor graduate, I would have to have a 90 average at the end of my senior year.
Looking over my report cards, to achieve that 90 average I would have to make a 92 in every class for every six weeks in my senior year. It didn’t sound monumental, but it was a challenge. I was – at best – a solid B student.
So, that was my goal. I knew that I was going to study journalism in college, so I really didn’t stretch myself as a senior. I already met my science requirements to graduate; band and journalism took most of my time.
I wasn’t in the “smart kids’ English class” that studied Beowulf and such, so I felt maybe I wouldn’t be knocked down as easily by the Olde English stories. Fortunately, we studied contemporary song lyrics, “Animal Farm” and I got extra credit with a report on “The Golden Bough.”
My senior year was also the first year of desegregation in the Greenville schools. There was some tension in the schools, but it didn’t affect me like it did other students. I just noticed the increased number of minority students in my classes.
When Greenville schools desegregated, three high schools were changed to a high school for 11th- and 12th-graders, a 10th-grade school and a junior high school. So, three football teams also combined into one team. It made a difference.
After eight wins in two previous years, the Greenville Hornets went undefeated my senior year and won the Capitol Bowl in Jackson against Callaway, symbolic of the Big Eight championship.
On the team were tight end Jimmie Giles of Tampa Bay Buccaneers fame, running back Wilbert Montgomery, who still holds Philadelphia Eagles rushing records; linebacker Charles Brady, who was Jackson State team captain when Walter Payton played there, and a defensive line that signed scholarships to Alcorn State University. So, yeah, desegregation had its good points when students, parents and school officials decided to work together, especially when it involved the children.
The other bright spot for me during my senior year was a matter of personal pride, having been a third-row clarinet player for the previous three years. Because of graduations in certain parts of the band, I was moved to the percussion section.
Fellow band geeks will understand what this does to a person’s social status. I instantly got more “cred.” I wasn’t in the girls’ section anymore and I was banging on something when we marched.
I also played tympani during concert season, and my band director was a big fan of Richard Wagner. That’s why I reminisced recently when the Oak Grove High School Wind Ensemble played “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” during judging.
At the end of my senior year, we practiced for graduation in the auditorium.
I thought I had made it as an honor graduate when I added up all my grades going into the last six weeks. On the first day, I was placed in the back of the pack in my usual alphabetical position. I was worried.
The next day, they moved me up with the honor graduates and I was excited. I got a black-and-gold tassel – instead of the plain black tassel – and my diploma had a black ribbon in the corner. I did it.
I remember my senior year fondly. Four years from now, I will get to relive it during my 50th class reunion.
Graduates, enjoy this time and remember it. The world gets infinitely larger in the next few years.
Buster Wolfe is a veteran Mississippi newspaperman who proudly graduated from Greenville High School. He lives in Oak Grove with his wife, Patricia.