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Rock on: Iconic Gainesville High symbol celebrates 50th year
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Children climb Sunday on Gainesville High School’s rock, a symbol of school spirit and pride that has graced this spot for 50 years. The rock sits off Chestatee Road/Pearl Nix Parkway, not far from the school. - photo by Jeff Gill

The memories haven’t faded for Kristy Nix — quite unlike the messages that have been painted and painted over time and again on Gainesville High School’s iconic rock.

Most of all, she remembers how she, among other classmates, were among the first GHS students to paint the inaugural messages on the boulder that overlooks Chestatee Road/Pearl Nix Parkway and is just a short drive from the school off Century Place.

“It’s just a terrific Gainesville High symbol of spirit and competition, to me,” Nix said.

She and other proud Red Elephant students, alumni and supporters swarmed around the rock Sunday afternoon to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Cheerleaders cheered, GHS band students played music, children climbed on the rock and group pictures were taken.

GHS rock turns 50

Proud Red Elephant students, alumni and supporters swarmed around the rock Sunday afternoon to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The event featured cheerleaders, band performances and an opportunity to paint inspirational messages on rocks.
By: Jeff Gill

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Also, each school had a booth where attendees could paint rocks with an inspirational message or happy thought — or “kindness rocks” — to take back to a school garden or just place somewhere around town.

“What a great tie-in (to the rock’s 50th year),” said Tandy Ray, an art teacher at Gainesville Exploration Academy coordinating the effort.

Stories vary as to how the rock got its start.

In a 1988 story from The Times, then-Police Commissioner Harold Black recalled how the rock was unearthed during a road-building project.

“They tried to move it with the bulldozers, and it wouldn’t budge. They’d just sit there and spin,” he said in the article. “So they just kept digging out around it and it became a huge rock. ... The next thing we knew, the Gainesville High students had gone down there and painted that rock.”

Another story circulating Sunday had something to do with the rock being the product of the construction of nearby Lakeshore Mall, which is about 50 years old.

Regardless, the rock has become a huge draw for students over the years.

“If you look on the side of it, you can see all the layers of paint that have been on it,” said Juliana Towns, a 2016 graduate and cheerleader in her freshman and sophomore years.

The rock hasn’t always been a symbol of school spirit. It also has played a much more somber role, paying homage to students who have died.

“We’ve had candlelight services where all the students come here,” she said.

Her mother, Havilyn Towns, a 1981 graduate and academic coach at Gainesville Exploration Academy, nodded in agreement.

“It just brings the school system together,” she said.

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