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Graduation: Then and Now

And now it is almost high school graduation time again. I thought back over the changes in graduation and all the other activities of the seniors from the way it was when I was young.

Expenses

To begin with it cost a lot of money for families to provide all that the senior girls required to be a part of everything. In the autumn of our senior year, we had to come up with the money for our class ring. I think it was less than $10, but that was almost impossible for most of us.
It is so simple today to see the young people in caps and gowns, and so much less expensive. The girls back when I finished high school had to have a long dress for Jr/Sr., which was a banquet, not a dance back then. I remember the program we had, and even I can recall the menu.

My dress

My junior year, Mother made me a pale blue organdy long dress. She made it by hand since we did not have a sewing machine. The tiny little ruffles were hemmed and gathered by hand. She must have put in hours of work to make that dress. The ruffles helped fill out my 14-year-old figure.
I remember hearing girls say, “what God has forgotten, we fill out with cotton.” Reckon what they were talking about?

My date

I had a date, a real date, with a nice boy; he was a football boy, Billy Hadwin. My mother approved of him, and that made my night perfect. We double dated with Glenn Cox and his date.

One of the boys had borrowed a car from an uncle. We went downtown after the banquet to see a movie. I remember we parked down the street from the Rex Theater and walked the rest of the way. We stopped in one of the “juice joints” that were prevalent during the late 30s. For a nickel, you received a huge goblet of your favorite fruit juice, and for another nickel you could select a sandwich. With each purchase you were allowed to plunge your hand into a punch bowl full of peanuts, shelled and salted. All you hand could hold was free with the drink.

I do not remember what the movie was, but that night was memorable in my recollections. Fifty years later, Billy Hadwin paid me the nicest compliment at one of our reunions. He said, “Juanita, you were such a lady.”
The Next Year

The next year I had no date, so a group of girls went together. We walked in our long dresses from our homes to the Minden High School cafeteria, which was in the basement of the school, and we entered it at ground level on the back of the school.

And then there was the Baccalaureate service that was held at First Baptist Church because it had the largest auditorium. Each girl was required to wear a hat, gloves, dress shoes and a nice dress. I had never worn a hat before, and at 15, I had never worn gloves except for warmth on a winter’s day.

As to shoes with high heels, I had never even had a pair on. So the outfit I wore was a first in many areas for me. Today the cap and gown is worn to any church service that honors graduates.

The Graduation Dress

The graduation dress was also long, in some pastel dimity, organdy or voile. Ladies grew sweet peas to make the bouquets each girl carried. I remember going to Mrs. E. L. Lyon’s home and helping to make the bouquets and the streamers. Tiny satin ribbons were knotted at intervals and a sweet pea was inserted so that it would cascade down the front of the dress. The sweet peas were picked the morning of graduation, and interspersed with Maidenhair fern, and secured into a nosegay with the ribbons that hung down.

My dress was pink, and I still have it. I cannot believe that I was so little and so skinny at 15, but I must have been because I wore that dress. It had puffed sleeves that hid my skinny shoulders and arms, and of course the long skirt hid my “mockingbird legs.”

Senior Day was an outing at Caney Lake and we wanted something new and pretty to wear there. I bought a piece of pink cotton at Wren’s and made my dress. Pretty good job, but not perfect. You remember that I said “Jack of all trades, Master of None” and that is me.

With money so plentiful today, good jobs, well paid, this does not seem like a lot of expense for senior girls, but when you consider that many men did not make even $5 a week that was quite a lot of expense that many could not afford.
Jr./Sr. Banquet

A friend, Mrs. Roy Fincher, saw that I had a graduation dress and a dress for Jr/Sr. banquet. Mrs. H. L. Miller saw to my Baccalaureate outfit. She also bought the outfit for 8 or 10 more girls. She was president of the PTA and had funds at her discretion. We all knew who had on the clothes she bought, but we just knew and kept quiet.
Nothing can dim the joy of my high school years, the teachers and the memories of the classes we had. Some of the teachers made an indelible impression on my life. I thank God for dedicated teachers who loved us into learning.

A Simple Life

There are many who finished along about the time I did that have the same love and respect for our educational system back then. I should say “WAY back then.”

And so the cap and gown is cheaper, but nothing is sweeter than a group of young girls in pastel dresses, with nosegays of sweetpeas. Life was simple, but I remember each experience that went along with graduation as well as the regular school years. Do you remember, too?

Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.