Memories from graduation day back in 1954


Most people can remember something about the day they graduated from high school. For me, lots and lots of things have stuck in my mind.

So, I decided I would see how those memories look on paper.

It was Thursday, June 3, 1954. When I woke up that morning, it was light outside, and I looked around the room and was reminded that I was staying at the home of a friend of mine named Judy. Since my family was living in Morrow County at that time, she had asked me to stay there so as not to miss any of the parties and practices for our graduation that evening. I knew immediately that she and I needed to be ready very soon to be on our way to an 8 a.m. senior breakfast at Buns Restaurant’s upstairs dining room. We were both seniors at Willis High School and were meeting the rest of our class there. It was a four-block walk that we made in time to be served a wonderful breakfast, which included a dish of fruit (pineapple, bananas and strawberries) on a plate with eggs, bacon and toast. I think all 105 members of our class were there. (Back in the ‘50s, Buns Restaurant had an upstairs dining room. To get to it, you had to enter from a door on West Winter Street and walk up a steep narrow set of steps that took some strong leg muscles to get all the way up.)

With breakfast finished, we all headed south on Sandusky Street for Gray Chapel on the grounds of Ohio Wesleyan University. We were to practice marching in, and then up on the stage to receive our diplomas that very evening. It was announced that the 14 students who made up a group to sing a new song called “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, would have to be there an hour earlier than the others. Since I was an alto in that group, I was concerned because that was shortening my time to finish making the dress I had to wear that evening. I should never have procrastinated so long in getting that dress finished!

When Judy and I got back to her house, her family was leaving to take her shopping in Columbus. That left me alone in their house to get my dress finished. But first, I had to pack up my suitcase so that my parents could pick it up before the graduation ceremonies. Then, I started working on my pieces of already cut-out white dotted Swiss material. Things went just fine until it was time to iron it. Using someone else’s iron is when the problem began. As soon as the iron touched the finished dress, it burned a hole the size and shape of the iron right through the front of it! The rule was for all the girls to wear white dresses under their cap and gown. And there I was with the chimes of the clock striking 2 p.m. and no other white dress to wear.

As I looked over the left-over material, I considered sewing it all into one big piece and then cutting out another top and using that. Since nothing had to match, I gave it a try, and it worked! It’s a good thing because there was no time to run back to Uhlmans and buy another $1 a yard of dotted Swiss.

Judy and her family had not returned, so I left early enough to walk to the MUB to pick up my cap and gown and put it on over my patched dress before anyone saw it.

After I had been given my diploma, I started looking over the audience to see if I could find my parents so as to know which way to go to meet them.

It all worked out well. They had successfully picked up my suitcase, too. Everything went well except for one little question. When my 12-year-old sister, Ann, went in to pick up my suitcase, they asked her what my family was getting me as a gift for my graduation. It had never been talked about, so she told them she didn’t think I was getting anything. However, when we got home at the farmhouse, there were three wrapped packages on the kitchen table. It turned out that I received three white purses from three different people. I guess that when asked what I needed, my mom must have told everyone in the family that I needed a white purse.

When everyone else had gone to bed, it was a long time before I got any sleep. It had just hit me that my life, as I had known it for all of my past 10 years, was over. (Our family moved to Delaware at the beginning of my third grade year.) During those 10 years, I had never left the Delaware City school system. However, I didn’t belong there any longer. I didn’t have a job. I had no money, so I wouldn’t be going to college. I didn’t even know how to drive.

I had no way to go anywhere. All I knew was that somehow, someway, somewhere, I would find a job. My dad told me that I didn’t have to worry about finding a job right away because “once you start to work, you never stop.” (And he was right.)

By Kay Conklin

Contributing columnist

Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.

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