For Huguenot’s Class of ’78, ev­ery­thing old is new again

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - BY JEFF E. SCHAPIRO jschapiro@timesdis­patch.com (804) 649-6814 Twit­ter: @RTDSchapiro

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.”

JEFF SCHAPIRO/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Brigitte Jones of Huguenot High’s Class of 1978 took pho­tos with her cell­phone dur­ing a visit to the school on Satur­day.

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