Lakers & Indians: A Gathering

Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is celebrating the commencement of a 76th graduating class this month. As a finale to a 75th year of celebrations there will be an All-Class Reunion taking place on June 17th with tours of the newly renovated school from 1:00 – 4:00 and a party with cake and refreshments taking place at the William’s Pub Peanut Bar in Uptown to follow from 4:00 to 7:00. Spread the word and gather your friends and classmates. The Southwest Foundation is sponsoring the event and as a nonprofit fundraising organization has a limited budget for such festivities and relies upon the good work of our parents and alumni to share information.

A successful kick-off was hosted last fall, marked with an Open House for the community and alumni and featured the induction of the first seven members into the Southwest Distinguished Alumni. If you are unable to attend the events this June, mark your calendar for September 8th, when our second induction of five Distinguished Alumni will take place in a Saturday afternoon ceremony (the day after Friday night’s Homecoming game). Numerous other events; dedication of the renovated gymnasium and recognition of basketball alumni, a wrestling reunion, performance of anniversary compositions (commissioned by the SW Foundation, created by alumni composers) at the Lake Harriet band shell and a Theater Alumni gathering, as well as the publication of the first Alumni Directory in 20 years (copies available in the SW library courtesy of the Foundation for use in organizing reunions). We are a small but dedicated group of parents, teachers and alumni who receive excellent support from the school’s administration, including current principal Dr. Smith.

High School is/was such an interesting part of one’s development, a place to create lifelong friends, a location to build a foundation for the future, a locale to challenge both oneself and even authority when warranted. It was a place of frustration, fun and fitting in. We made friends, made mistakes and many made bad hair choices.

When I started at Southwest, it was a dual high school and junior high that I attended from 7th  through 12th grades. It was a neighborhood school where one only saw school buses when there was a field trip. By the time I graduated it was the first Minneapolis high school to house an English as a Second Language program (ESL) and a good portion of my classmates are Hmong, Laotian and Iranian. Unfortunately, as a new program the integration of these populations was poorly executed, with little explanation of who these new students were, where they had come from or the challenges they had faced that brought them to Minneapolis in the first place. The ESL students participated in  classes that were mostly segregated and bathrooms, the lunchroom and Media Center were our primary shared spaces. Southwest now provides education to students from literally every corner of the earth, in addition to providing Special Education opportunities to a student population with an array of educational challenges.

Once a Hockey powerhouse led by coach Dave Peterson (who went on to coach Team USA) the Minneapolis Public Schools currently field just one boys hockey team from the entire district. Soccer became a club sport during my time at Southwest and now produces quality competitive Varsity and JV teams in that area. Nordic ski is another athletic program that has seen success and our athletes access to the “chain of lakes” coupled with dedicated coaching staffs has helped produce many successful Cross Country teams over the school’s history.

The Rouser remains the school song, though it seems that sometime after my departure the band continued to play it but the students were no longer taught the lyrics. We dusted it off and included the words on the Distinguished Alumni program and sang it with accompaniment of current band members last fall. Making the event more memorable, was a ’82 Cheerleader who led the audience, resplendent with her original-issue pom-poms! Title IX has provided more athletic opportunities to girls than simply cheering on their male classmates and thus the once coveted roles are limited and perhaps viewed as old-fashioned.

While the majority of the alumni attended the school when the mascot was the Indians (a carefully chosen symbol selected by the original student body to acknowledge those who had settled the shores of the neighboring lakes) the Lakers have been the mascot since the mid-eighties when social conscience deemed that the former mascot was offensive. Like the world, Southwest has evolved and things have changed. The common denominators seem to be the Convention Grill, the Edina theater and the beloved lakes which I hope will always foster good memories and budding youth romance.

Hopefully I have triggered some memories for you of your time at Southwest, the friends you made and even a realization of how much things have changed. I encourage you to reach out to your siblings, friends and others you know who attended Southwest and make them aware of this opportunity to share some memories and make some new ones!

“When from these halls we leave the, loyal we will be. True to the purple and white.” Hope to see you a week from Saturday!

RSVP to: ellen@southwestfoundation.org

SW Reunion


Commence: What Did I Begin at High School Graduation?

As I recall, it was a beautiful late spring day. There was a breeze blowing across the football field as my classmates and I walked the couple of blocks down the hill from Southwest High School. Folding chairs and a podium awaited us on the field and the home team bleachers were filled with our families, friends and members of the community.

As class president, I was to give the commencement speech. I had typed it on an ancient manual typewriter the night before, not on ordinary note cards but on 4 x 6 cards I had cut from a Jerry Lewis telethon poster I had left over from a girls organization I was a member of. My best friend and I had taken one last trip to Zantigo’s across from the mall late that afternoon. I returned home about 5:00 and asked my mother where my gown was. She had wanted it to look nice and had taken it to be pressed at the dry cleaners (her own ironing skills had resulted in my brothers and I outgrowing most of our clothing while they lingered with good intentions in a large wicker “ironing basket”). My brother who had graduated from college a few weeks earlier dashed down to the Pilgrim Cleaners in the Linden Hills business district where he banged on the already locked door and persuaded the remaining employee that he really needed his sister’s graduation robe.

Most girls wore a dress, sun-tan colored hosiery and white dress shoes under the purple gown. I wore lavender pantyhose, my purple shoes from prom, my brother’s Minneapolis Public School’s boys gym shorts that had been patched on the butt with boldly patterned fabric from a girl’s bikini. The ensemble was topped off with a T-shirt that had come in the mail after submitting postage and proof of purchase. It was pink and proclaimed “I’m Baby Soft”. It was 1981 and apparently that is what a leader looked like.

One might suspect that giving a speech would make one nervous but after a year of leading “Senior Home Rooms” on Wednesdays each week and a couple of years emceeing “Pep-Fests” that did not intimidate me at all. The anxiety-inducing portion of the evening was the reading of the graduates names, a task shared with my vice president. We announced them and they received their diploma cover (no diplomas until your gown is turned in and all text books and athletic equipment has been accounted for) and a handshake from the principal and other folks from the district.

You may wonder why reciting the names of the people you had gone to school with for years would be so taxing, so I’ll explain. A very large portion of my class was comprised of kids I had not gone to school with my whole life. They did not live in our corner of Minneapolis, they had been arriving by bus for the previous couple of years. Southwest had been selected a couple of years earlier to house the English as a Second Language (ESL) program for the city. In an unfortunate oversight, in what I am convinced would not happen today, there was very little explanation of who these people were, why they were here and most importantly what they had been through. Most were Hmong and Laotian and some were from Iran. Though they attended our school and we all ate in the same lunchroom, for the most part we were not classmates at all. It was years before I fully grasped the horrific circumstances many of these students had experienced before ever arriving in Minneapolis. When organizing class reunions I have been asked why none of our Vietnamese classmates attend. Though I mailed invites to the five and ten year gatherings to the addresses they lived at senior year I have never got any responses. I assume that high school memories for them are not a scrap-book filled with school activities and old dance photo’s but more of learning English and being thrust into a large and not terribly friendly building across town from where they lived. It was not until commencement rehearsal that I learned that Nguyen was pronounced more like “Win” than “Nugent”.

In looking back I wonder what any 17 year old who was born and raised in Minneapolis could possibly convey to the kid who grew up across the ocean or for that matter across the street. I talked about parents taking us to kindergarten in the fall of 1968 and I recited from Desiderata an encouragement to “Go placidly amid the noise and haste…” and I left them with the wisdom that I just heard again in a speech last week about ships being safe in harbor but that not being what ships are made for. As I write this, I realize that with both of my parents gone, I may be the only one that has retained any recollection of the content of my commencement address.

So to answer my question of what did I commence at commencement, I say that leaving the security of the familiar is when one really begins to learn. So there was a lot that I learned entering Lake Harriet elementary in 1968 when I left the security of my home to begin  formal education and that the most valuable of my learning has taken place beyond the familiarity of Southwest High School. I truly did not have much life experience or wisdom to share with my classmates in June of 1981. Would a wise person really lecture “Boat People” on where ships are safe?