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Local alumni cherish their graduations, and many of them have come back to help future generations
Johnny Vardeman

As of now high school graduations will be held, but there is considerable doubt as to when and how.

Students and educators are hopeful this pandemic will subside so normalcy will return. It would be a shame if students didn’t get their chance to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, and it also might affect their future plans, such as entering college in the fall.

High school graduations always have become milestone events though they have been varied in how they are conducted. They also have become large with massive numbers of parents and friends witnessing this significant accomplishment of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Some graduations have bordered on rowdy as enthusiastic relatives shout their appreciation as the graduates’ names are called, and graduates express their joy in various ways.

Locally, larger venues are required, even the outdoor ceremony for Gainesville High School whose graduates cover much of Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park while an audience applauds in the stands.

A hundred years ago, the 1920 graduating class of Gainesville High School was the last to occupy a part of the old Main Street School. It had to share the building with elementary students.

That graduating class consisted of only 13 girls and three boys.

What was later named “The Gym of ’36,” which was under construction when the 1936 tornado struck Gainesville, of course, wasn’t available then. It was used in subsequent graduations.

The 1921 senior class was the first to graduate from the new high school building on Washington Street, across from today’s Peach State Bank. Grades seven through 11 occupied the building. This was in the segregation era when black students had separate schools. White elementary students attended Main Street and Candler Street schools.

When the Washington Street building formally opened Sept. 21, 1921, alumni and former educators were there to experience the transition. The Rev. Kelsey Dozier, who was in the first graduating class of Gainesville public schools, gave the invocation, R.E. Park, the first principal, was present, along with his wife, who was among the first Gainesville High School graduates. W.E. Hosch, Byron Mitchell and W.E. Dozier were other first graduates attending.

Mayor Hammond Johnson planted a pecan tree on the campus dedicated to alumni. The city paid $16,000 for the lot bounded by Washington, Oak, Maple and what was then Grove Street. The school itself cost more than $100,000.

Speaking of alumni

That was a century ago. For many, high school provided some of the best memories of life. That is why you see senior classes through the years hold reunions and want to do something for their school to remember them.

When the GHS Class of 1964 held its 50th reunion, it donated two stainless steel benches and landscaping in front of the school’s administration building... With $1,133 left over they started a scholarship fund that grew to $30,000 by the spring of 2018. Two $1,500 scholarships were awarded that year; now $2,000 scholarships are awarded to graduates.

The fund now totals $42,000, which will continue to be used to give scholarships. The GHS Alumni Scholarship Fund created by the Class of 1964 also receives contributions from school system employees through a payroll deduction plan called “F.A.M.E,” ($5, $15, $50 A Month Elephants.)

The GHS Class of 1969 added $3,500 to the fund. In addition, the Class of 1967 selects future teachers for scholarships.

Many of the donations are made in the memory of friends or loved ones, and others honor classmates or former teachers.

Some of those involved in the fund include Julian Prosser, David Sargent, Larry Adams, Patsy Fargason, Jim Moore and Jan Thomson Smith.

Alumni supporting the scholarship funds are encouraging others to contribute through the North Georgia Community Foundation marked for GHS Alumni – Established by the GHS Class of 1964, 615 Oak St., Suite 1300, Gainesville 30501. Donors also can give online at

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326;

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