Tom Kirvan: My Turn

 Several years ago, while attending a high school graduation ceremony in which a friend was the commencement speaker, I was struck by the profound nature of her opening statement.

“Take a moment to look around you,” she urged those in cap-and-gown that day. “This is indeed a very special day, not only because of its significance in your academic journey, but also since this will be the last time that all of you will gathered together in one place.” 
Indeed she was right, as she gazed upon a class that numbered nearly 500, each bent on carving a special path in life that more than likely would only occasionally intersect with high school classmates again.
In two years, it will be time for my 45th high school reunion. The planning for the festivities, I have been told by a former classmate, already has begun. For whatever reason, I have yet to attend any of my high school reunions. I only remain in touch with a handful of classmates and most of my favorite teachers have long since passed away. Those are the sad facts.
And yet, there is something about those high school days that I will always cherish, even if my academic performance was less than stellar.
It was late summer 1969, little more than a month after Neil Armstrong took a lunar leap for mankind, that several friends and I took a trek of our own, wandering wide-eyed through the yet-to-be-opened Ann Arbor Huron High School, which was to be our educational home for the next two years.
We felt privileged to get a sneak preview of its environs before the rest of the huddled Huron masses set foot in the impressive edifice off Fuller Road. Such was the joy of knowing someone high up the educational food chain in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
At the time, the new Huron was the crème de la crème of high schools, offering eye-catching design and educational features that set it far apart from the buildings of the day.
We seemed singularly amazed at the “spare no expense” approach to the construction of the building, which arose out of the need to alleviate crowding at the then Ann Arbor High School.
We certainly could attest to the sardine-like conditions at Ann Arbor High after spending the previous year attending classes in split-shift formation there. The “Pioneer” students had the joy of the six-hour morning shift, while we “Huron” wannabees trudged into school for the afternoon hours of learning.
Our principal was Harvard-educated Paul Meyers, a former chemistry teacher who reportedly was instrumental in planning the layout of the new school. As principals go, he received generally high marks from the student populace, most of whom admired his keen intellect and obvious desire to promote the concept of lifelong learning in a diversified setting.
Of course, he had his student detractors as well, many of whom were upset at his insistence that the school’s mascot be labeled the “Huron” instead of the much more popular “River Rat.”
Mr. Meyers, so the legend goes, had a special aversion to rats after too many encounters with the rodents during his World War II service overseas. The “River Rat” moniker was the mocking mascot label the “Pioneer” students hoisted upon “Huron” students while they were splitting hairs at Ann Arbor High in that ghastly school year of 1968-69. Back then, the new school’s site along the Huron River wasn’t the park-like gem that it is today. Gallup Park was but a pipedream after a dam burst a year earlier during a summer monsoon, leaving the Huron River to trickle through a rat-infested wayside that was once a medical waste site.
It would take several more years before school administrators would warm up to calling themselves true “River Rats,” but the mascot name finally stuck, much to the relief of students and alums who likened the “Huron Hurons” to an unkind form of athletic stuttering.
All this serves as nothing more than a step back in time as I prepare to celebrate my class’s upcoming 45th. There figures to be plenty of elbow room that night, as we gather somewhat en masse for the 2016 reunion. As our numbers have dwindled – whether by the ravages of age or misfortune, we can all be reminded of the power of the words “last time” and “never again.”

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