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Grady Traditions: A Nostalgic Look At Our Past

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Catherine Opsahl

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In the 1980’s, Grady’s pep rallies took place in the Old Gym. The population is now too large for everyone to fit, so pep rallies are in the New Gym.

In the 1980’s, Grady’s pep rallies took place in the Old Gym. The population is now too large for everyone to fit, so pep rallies are in the New Gym.

 

 

By Catherine Opsahl

Freshman arches, spirit sticks, and Spaghetti Night: though unfamiliar to Grady’s current students, they are all memories for Grady alumnus and graphic design teacher Paul Nicholson.

Today we have Freshman Friday and mix tapes at pep rallies, but Grady had a different set of traditions 30 years ago.

“I think people will feel that when they have the opportunity to participate in something that is traditional, they feel like they’ve become a part of an establishment, something that’s known throughout the history of the institution,” Nicholson said.

Some traditions have stuck around, such as Senior Skip Day, or, as it was called in the 1980s, ‘Senior Cut Day’. Seniors skipped school on a Friday near the end of the school year and went to Piedmont Park, recalls Molly McDonald, Grady class of 1989.

“There was a lot of parental concern about it,” McDonald said. “It was too fun to pass up, so I did do it my senior year even though I was very much a rule follower. I can’t remember anything that happened specifically. We probably ended up at Taco Mac playing video games eventually.”

Spirit Week has also remained mostly the same over time, such as with the continuance of Cross Dress Day.

“I think a lot of the guys looked forward to wearing dresses to school,” McDonald said. “One of the student body co-presidents dressed in a full football uniform. We didn’t have a term for manspreading back then, but she really enjoyed going to class and manspreading in her football uniform. I feel like things like that really brought us together.”

Other practices faded away with the years. For example, pep rallies used to take place in the Old Gym. Grady’s population had not yet swelled to be able to fill the New Gym. The presence of a ‘spirit stick’ at pep rallies has also vanished.

“There would be that moment when the Spirit Stick came out when everybody knew that this was it, this was the moment to really let everything out,” Nicholson said. “So they would run around, and wherever the spirit stick was, that group would make as loud a noise as they could, and whoever displayed the biggest spirit would then have the honor of claiming the stick for that class, until the next pep rally. The last pep rally was really important because that class would hold onto that spirit stick until the following year.”

Homecoming is another element of Grady that has changed. All grade levels, except freshmen, used to pull floats around the track with vehicles while the freshmen created a “freshmen arch” for the football players and upperclassmen to run through before upperclassmen tore it down.

“One of our parents was an architect, so we built this thing out of wood and chicken mesh, and we stuck tissue paper in that,” Nicholson said. “It was really pretty, but because we had this wooden screwed in rib, it was really strong, so when they went down there trying to pull it apart… they could not tear it apart, so they just dragged it off the field and threw it over the fence. We were proud that we were a freshman class that made a stand.”

From his experience as both a student and a teacher at Grady, Nicholson said that larger class sizes may contribute to changes at Grady. This makes it more difficult for people to communicate.

“I think we’re in danger of… losing the meaning behind certain traditions, because we’re getting bigger and it’s harder for people to get together and coordinate these efforts to continue these traditions,” Nicholson said. “We used to have ‘spaghetti night,’ hosted by the football team. You could put it on your calendar and you’d know it was going to happen. I think we’re losing the consistency of traditions, things just kind of pop up now and then.”

Nonetheless, one principle underlies past and present traditions: teenagers rebel.

“Breaking the law, a little is a part of growing up,” McDonald said. “It’s a part of testing the world and figuring out how you fit into it.”

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The arts, cultural and news magazine of Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia