High school and college graduation ceremonies are all around us! I’ve pondered this monumental occasion throughout recent weeks as family members, friends, and my own students reached this milestone in their lives.
Currently, I’m on a journey researching old schools in our community. George County’s first schoolhouse was established in 1880; and, at that time it sat in Greene County as George County was not developed until 1910. It actually sat on the Greene County and Jackson County line in the Evanston Community and was known originally as Evanston School. Later is it was known as County Line School. I do not yet know how many students graduated there; however, it is documented that about 24 students in grades first through twelfth attended each month.
I recently found an article in the Greene County Herald, dated March 22, 1921, which stated Lucedale School would not hold graduation ceremonies. The news story read, “Next Tuesday, we understand, will finish the present session of the Lucedale High School and this year will be merely a shutdown. No graduating exercises, as it has been understood from the beginning that no one would be allowed to graduate this year, but would be held over for the higher grades that are to be put on next year.” Lucedale High School at that time was located in the vicinity of the City of Lucedale Fine Arts Center, also known as the American Legion Hut. Construction of the school on Church Street, now known as L.C. Hatcher Elementary, was completed in 1935 as a federal Public Works Administration project as the “new” Lucedale School for grades one through twelve.
Graduation ceremonies for our community run the gamut. This past May 10, about 120 students in the high school equivalency program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College were afforded the opportunity to wear caps and gowns and walk across the Coast Coliseum stage to accept their diplomas. They were a collective group from across the MGCCC service territory. About a dozen were students I taught in the adult education program at the George County Center of MGCCC. The next day that same stage at the coliseum served another 1,300 students who received associate degree diplomas and credentials in various academic and occupational programs through MGCCC.
In the coming days and weeks, thousands of other students will complete the milestones of high school or college degrees across our state and nation. One of these is my great-nephew, Bankston Rush in the Union Public School District, who will graduate from high school. Another is our daughter, Mollie, who has completed a Doctorate of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Bankston will wear a mortar board and typical black gown over his dressy attire. Similar mortar boards are worn at colleges for undergraduate degrees. However, Mollie was hooded last week and wore a cool-looking puffy hat when she earned her Ph.D. Hooded robes, which date back to the 11th and 12th centuries in Europe, were originally worn to provide warmth in unheated medieval libraries. However, over time, they became associated with the continued pursuit of knowledge and are an expression of the wearer’s school, degree, and field of study for the rest of their lives.
This current week, approximately 250 teenagers will wear mortar boards as they graduate from George County High School. George County High School has conducted graduation ceremonies since the mid-1960s. That was the time period when high schools throughout the county merged to form George County High School. Prior to that consolidation, schools in outlying rural communities had their own high school graduating classes. Each had graduating classes on years there were enough to graduate. Some years might have experienced small numbers by today’s standards; still, they represented a class of that year.
Regardless of the number of students in a class, and regardless of whether we have family members walking across a stage, this time of year is a time to celebrate all of it.