When the 1944 yearbook staff at Cleveland High School wrote about “the shattered conditions of the world,” they meant World War II, which had turned their classmates into soldiers, workers or residents of internment camps.
Fifty years later, the 1994 “Aquila” staff alludes to very different forces at work – gangs, violence, poverty – that also threaten to shatter the world graduating seniors now confront.
Celebrating their 50-year high-school reunion, about 45 members of Cleveland’s class of 1944 and their spouses returned to the high school yesterday, many for the first time since graduation, and got an up-close look at how dramatically their school has changed.
Principal Ted Howard said the school struggles to meet the needs of students who have almost nothing in common with students of a half-century ago.
Their school, which had been essentially all-white, now is made up of 72 percent minorities, including 50 percent Asian Americans.
The school has computer labs, its own radio station, computerized databases in the library, drug-and-alcohol counseling, an anger management class, and a bilingual program.
Almost 40 percent of the students speak a language other than English at home, and 43 percent live with only one parent. A dozen street gangs are represented at the school, which has two security officers, Howard said.
“Whoever heard of having AA classes in school? It’s a very different world today,” said alumna Pat Clifford of Seattle. “I’m impressed with how they make do, how they adapt. It’s part of the Cleveland spirit, I think.”
The world her class of 129 graduating seniors entered was focused on the war.
The June 8, 1944, school newspaper, the Cleveland Journal, reminisces about “all the pre-war things we had like our swell Ski Club (and gas) . . . and more than anything we remember the boys who used to roam our halls and now are remembered by all when we look at our (war) service plaque in the main hall.”
Through then-Principal Kenneth Selby, the class helped buy 160 acres of forest near Issaquah as a living memorial for former students killed in World War II.
The paper is sprinkled with ads for war bonds, Boeing jobs “for vital war work” and ads from Pacific Telephone & Telegraph hiring senior girls as operators “to put servicemen in touch with their homes.”
The yearbook from the class’s sophomore year shows eight Japanese-American students in the class. By 1944, they were gone, most of them in internment camps.
The yearbook notes the school’s support for the war in the form of paper and tin salvage drives, bond booths and girls making “fracture pillows” for wounded soldiers.
This year’s yearbook has pages devoted to the Filipino Club, the Chinese Club, and the Technology Club. One girl writes about her love for her “homies” (friends) and her fear that she could lose one “to an argument or unexpected decisions.”
Clifford said most of the changes at the school had been for the better. “We used to sit and memorize dates – how ridiculous in today’s world,” she said.
But she felt saddened by the violence and lack of values she sees in some students today.
“We were innocent then, I guess, but we were taught values like honesty and accountability,” Clifford said. ” . . . You wonder what kind of discipline there is today.”
But some were heartened to see that school spirit still means the same thing for today’s students.
One of the reunion organizers, Audrey Hopkins, visited the school a couple of times this year in preparing for the event and noticed a banner hanging in the hallway:
“Welcome to the friendliest little school in the Western Hemisphere.”
“That much hasn’t changed,” Hopkins noted with satisfaction.