Editor’s note: Selma High’s Class of 1964 alumnus Paulette Janian shared her recollection of this year’s Golden Grads reunion.
SELMA – Every April for the past 55 years, my hometown of Selma has organized a multi-class Selma Union High School Alumni Reunion for Golden Grads, that is, students graduating from the school 50 or more years ago.
It is a three-day weekend event beginning Friday evening. Individual reunion classes meet at a restaurant or classmate’s home to reminisce, visit and catch up on each other’s lives since high school graduation.
On Saturday, between 500 and 600 alums gather in the Abraham Lincoln Middle School gymnasium for a catered luncheon and more socializing. Finally on Sunday morning, breakfast is available in our high school cafeteria and there is one more opportunity for socializing before everyone returns home with the hope that we will all be alive and able to return next year.
For this year’s Friday night event, my class, the class of 1964, marked its 55 year reunion with a gathering for dinner and drinks at Bobby Salazar’s in Kingsburg.
One classmate we had not seen for many years attended this year’s reunion. His name is Willie McDaniel. In the early 1970’s he served as a courtroom deputy sheriff (better known as bailiff in those days) in the Fresno County Municipal Courts. Willie was always jovial, fun and entertaining and since we had not seen him for many years, it was his turn to bring us up to date on his post-high school life.
He began his presentation by announcing that he left high school with a 1.9 grade point average and said, “If I can make it, anyone can.” He is, at the age of 73, on the verge of receiving his PhD in psychology. He told us he had been suspended from high school for having too many tardies because his father, who worked for Selma Sanitation, would take him to work with him at 5 a.m. Thus, he was late for school on many days. Nevertheless, after high school, Willie enrolled at Reedley College and earned his Associate of Arts degree in Criminology followed by his Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from Fresno State. He served in the U.S. Army and then began his extensive career in law enforcement. His career took him from the small town of his boyhood to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, to law enforcement jobs in Europe and to Chief of Campus Police at Texas A and M University, where he was also an adjunct professor. Most recently, he had an acting part in two movies. And he’s not done yet!
Seeing Willie again reminded me of the time I appeared in his municipal courtroom representing a criminal defendant who had also graduated with us from Selma High School in 1964. When the judge called my case, Willie, never shy, suddenly announced, “Your honor, I graduated from Selma High School in the same class with the attorney and the defendant in this case. You are looking at the top of our class, the middle of our class, and the bottom of our class!” Laughter. Gavel!
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At this year’s reunion, I also learned that one of my classmates had courageously filed and won an employment discrimination lawsuit which improved the lives of thousands of working women.
In 1971, Caroline Wickman Kelley was employed as a teacher in the Selma Unified School District. In those days, the school districts had a policy which required teachers to leave their employment without pay once they became three months pregnant. Caroline obeyed the district policy when she was three months pregnant with her first child. With the support of the California Teachers Association, she and a co-worker in the same situation sued Selma Unified School District, challenged the policy in court, and won. The success of her lawsuit set a precedent and forced school districts throughout California to change the archaic policy to allow teachers to keep teaching until the teacher and her doctor determined the appropriate time to take pregnancy leave. Caroline reported that other states and businesses followed suit after her landmark case. Impressive, I thought.
Every year, I am always inspired by the Saturday luncheon which was attended this year by members of the Classes of 1940 through 1969, the “Greatest Generation” to the “Baby Boomers.” Every year we honor and remember those who have passed on with photos and tributes.
I look at the large and diverse audience and see respect, courtesy, civility and tolerance, attributes that are too rare today.
All of us stand for the presentation of our American flag. Impeccably polished, uniformed men and women who are current students from our high school, ceremoniously enter the gym respectfully marching with the flag to the front of the stage. One of the presenters is holding a banner proclaiming Selma High’s ROTC a Naval Honors School. I can certainly see why. Pete Esraelian, Class of 1950, who is a retired Selma City Clerk, leads us in the flag salute.
Master of Ceremonies and Reunion Chairman Hugh Adams, from the Class of 1958, leads all of us in singing, “God Bless America,” and we sound loud and proud.
This year, the honored class celebrating their 50 year reunion was introduced by the Class of 1969’s Robert Aguallo and the Honorable Gary Paden, judge of the Tulare County Superior Court, who also delivered an invocation. Paden thanked God for our country and the opportunity to gather with classmates and friends. Finally, we sang our Alma Mater, a tune that’s probably been around for a hundred years.
It is evident our parents and teachers taught us well, and we need more occasions like this to remind us that no matter what our age, race, gender, ethnicity, or religion, we are one people. E Pluribus Unum. God Bless America.