by Joanna Metheny
This Friday marks graduation day for Ripon High School’s seniors. This year’s graduating class has just over 200 students, and they are a diverse group. The 2018 graduates include wrestling, soccer, and track stars, swimmers, and golfers. There is a magician, a $20,000 scholarship winner, an entrepreneur opening her own store in Copperopolis, and a teen mom graduating on time with plans to attend college in the fall. Many in this driven tribe of movers and shakers will be moving on to four year programs at schools such as Humboldt State and Menlo College, or starting their college years locally at Modesto Junior College.
But what did Ripon High’s graduating class look like 100 years ago? For starters, it was much smaller. The Ripon Union High School (as it was known back then) only had nine graduating seniors, eight of them women. Graduation day in 1918 was near the tail end of World War I, and the school’s yearbook was dedicated “To all the Boys [sic] who have left the school to fight for Uncle Sam”. It makes one wonder how large the class would have been had the war not happened, and how many of the seniors’ classmates were lost.
Much like today’s seniors, the 1918 class participated in familiar activities like debate, drama and athletics. They harassed the incoming freshman, although the methods have hopefully evolved over the last hundred years as the yearbook claims the words “Kill the Freshies” were “written on every blackboard in the Assembly Hall”. Interestingly, each of the nine graduating seniors, all chose to pursue some form of education for their future careers.
The 1918 yearbook also includes a “prophecy” section, where each senior wrote out a rather fantastical and occasionally hilarious idea of what they thought would happen to them in the future. Each entry was written in the past tense, as if by someone in the distant future was recording events from the past. Entries included Miss Nessie Henry’s stating she was the originator of a bookkeeping system that made her millions before she turned 40, at which point she retired to a Sonoran estate where she raised “pink-eared Japanese cats”, as well as Miss Flora House’s which stated she married a Riponite who was wounded in the war. Following this, they relocated to Half Moon Bay to take up onion gardening, at which point Miss Flora authored two books, “Scents From My Garden”, and “The Onions Of Half Moon”. It is good to note that despite the somber time and circumstances in which they lived, the graduates were able to keep their senses of humor and positive outlook.
Despite the weighty issues that war brings, there seems to have also been some pettier drama that the 1918 graduates dealt with. A Ripon Record article from May of 1918 alludes to the high school year not being “the success all hoped for”, and then mentioned as the “probable cause of its failure, a lack of harmony, petty jealousy, and too much talk and too little action”. One can only speculate as to what happened, as the rest of the article urges the reader to move on from the year, and then discusses how both the war and farm work have caused low enrollment in all of the area schools.
While one hundred years have passed since these nine seniors graduated, and the landscape in Ripon has certainly changed, some things remain the same. It appears cheeky attitudes, teenage drama, and youthful ambition have stood the test of time. Come support Ripon’s youth this Friday as they march for their diplomas in Stouffer Field, before they embark on the next phase of their journeys through life.
About the author: For nearly a decade, Joanna Metheny has been a freelance writer specialized in the coverage of local topics and community interest stories. A Central Valley transplant and Bay Area native, Joanna permanently relocated to Ripon and hasn’t looked back once. She loves the city’s proud agricultural history and small town feel. Joanna enjoys spending her time in the community, tending her garden, and discovering local secrets along Ripon’s backroads.