Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — High School Graduation

Receiving my diploma from Mr Maluso, Chaney H.S. Principal. (Photo scanned from 1972 Lariat, photographer unknown)

Receiving my diploma from Mr Maluso, Chaney H.S. Principal. (Photo scanned from 1972 Lariat, photographer unknown)

Driving through our neighborhood today, I noticed all the banners congratulating graduates from our local high school and this took me back to my own graduation, June 8, 1972, from Chaney High School. Graduation actually took place at South Field House, behind South High School, because Chaney did not have an auditorium big enough for our class and the parents and relatives who came to celebrate with us. As I recall, we had one of the largest graduating classes in Chaney’s history–I believe 462 students. We had gray caps and gowns with scarlet tassels–Chaney’s colors [one of the comments posted reminded me that the boys had gray gowns, the women scarlet, and our tassles had both colors]..

Our commencement ceremony was really the last in a series of events that marked this rite of passage from high school into what for many of us was the beginning of adulthood. There had been the senior prom (yes, I had a date, and yes, we broke up a month after the prom!). Then in the week before graduation, there was a senior banquet, where I believe people received a number of different awards, a baccalaureate service, and finally the commencement, at which we received our diplomas.

I actually remember only one of the class speeches from commencement, the one I had to give. I don’t even remember most of what I said, except for the title, which was drawn from the James Taylor/Carol King song, “You’ve Got a Friend.” I don’t remember the photographer who snapped the picture of me receiving my diploma that appeared in our yearbook (The Lariat). I do remember being surrounded by family outside afterwards and receiving congratulations.

And then we dispersed to pursue our lives. From our class Facebook group it appears that some have stayed in fairly close contact with each other. Other than my contacts with some classmates on Facebook, I am still in touch with only two–Roger, who was the best man in my wedding, and Paul, who is my brother-in-law.

We pursued many different paths. Some followed their fathers into the mills or onto the assembly line. When the mills closed, many migrated to other cities to find work. Some bounced around for a time before they found their passion in life. Ed O’Neill (of Modern Family fame) didn’t go to our high school, but was around Youngstown State about the time we were there (I actually think I remember him working at the pub in Kilcawley Center). His seemed to be that kind of story, and he obviously turned out all right. It seems like life worked out that way for many of us. Some married early, some later. A few died young–one friend in a tragic auto accident.

Some of us went on to college or even graduate school. We became white collar professionals of various sorts, and yet many I’ve talked with still feel like we are working class under the skin. We learned the languages and practices of professional life, yet it never felt quite natural. We knew this when we rubbed shoulders with those from different class backgrounds. We felt like we were learning a dance whose steps we never quite mastered while they danced effortlessly. Still, many of us loved our work and the work ethic we learned growing up led to varying degrees of success.

It is hard to believe that this was forty-three years ago. We walked out of South Field House with all our lives and dreams before us. It feels like the blink of an eye, and yet it is this rich space filled with joys and struggles around work and marriage and family, of children and grand-children, and the losses of parents. Maybe life didn’t turn out as we dreamed, but all of us probably have had experiences we’d never dreamed of and would never trade. In many of our families, we are the elder generation. Our kids may have kids but we never stop being parents. One day they’ll understand as well…just like all those kids receiving diplomas this spring.

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