For Huguenot’s Class of ’78, everything old is new again
Returning to the South Richmond high school from which she graduated 40 years ago — never mind it wasn’t standing at the time — Brigitte Jones pulled out her cellphone, technology that didn’t exist when she was a student, to capture a new memory of days gone by.
Jones, a member of Huguenot High School’s Class of 1978 and a soon-to-retire employee of the U.S. Defense Supply Center, made photographs of the airy gymnasium, the walls of which were adorned with banners in the school’s colors — green and gold — that trumpeted its triumphs in basketball, historically its strongest sport.
Jones was among nine graduates who toured the school this weekend, returning for their first reunion four decades after completing their secondary education at Huguenot’s predecessor on Forest Hill Avenue in the city’s Stratford Hills section.
The building in which Jones and 194 classmates studied was erected in 1960, and was razed and replaced in 2014. The new, $63 million Huguenot, beset by a faulty air conditioning system and elevators as well as a water-damaged gym floor, sits on the same sloping grade as its predecessor. It was the first new high school opened by the city since 1968.
“You hear that? We’re the oldest things in the building,” said Jean Paul Delbridge of Richmond, as Jonathan Young, a member of the Richmond School Board in whose district Huguenot is located, guided the Class of ’78 contingent through the school’s auditorium, wide halls, spacious commons, gym and locker room.
The new building stirred old memories — of a history and government teacher who would fall asleep during class, a typing instructor who would rap students on their knuckles with a ruler if they looked at the keyboard, of lunchtime dashes off campus to a nearby fast-food restaurant, and of classmates gone but not forgotten, casualties of violence, disease and drugs.
Young, a college professor, graduated from high school in 1994 — when members of Huguenot’s Class of ’78 were approaching their mid-30s — apprised the visitors of the current challenges for Richmond’s public schools, among them, absenteeism and social promotion of underperforming students.
Jerrold Harris, now a university administrator in Pennsylvania with a doctorate in entomology and a tattoo on his left forearm that recalls The Blob, a favorite cult science-fiction film from the late 1950s, said he and his classmates were occasionally given to mischief. However, “We had a lot more freedom, but we didn’t abuse it.”
Court fights in the 1970s that opened Richmond’s schools to blacks and whites sparked an exodus of whites to the surrounding counties. Among the students who remained in the city schools, the members of Huguenot’s Class of ’78 — at least those visiting the school — said they largely recalled racial harmony.
“The whole race mix thing — I was very comfortable with that,” said Sonia Thompson Gwyn, who was president of the graduating class.
Gwyn, who is AfricanAmerican, attributed that to living as a child in Japan, where her Army officerfather was posted. Gwyn, a Wake Forest alumna and efficiency expert for a sprawling Charlotte, N.C., hospital, said the Huguenot class was given to “selfsegregation” in ninth grade but by graduation, four years on, “became more cohesive.”
Brigitte Jones of Huguenot High’s Class of 1978 took photos with her cellphone during a visit to the school on Saturday.