The Spirit of ’72

On this Thanksgiving weekend, one of the things for which I am most grateful this year was the WUHS class of 1972 50th reunion.  When the planning committee asked me to be one of the emcees for the event, I prepared a brief introductory statement.  The right moment for making this statement, though, never seemed to arise.  Everyone was having such a good time.  It just did not seem right to interrupt the natural flow of the evening.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, perhaps it is time to share the statement with the class of 1972. What follows is the unedited version of what I intended to say on that great evening in October.

Why We Are Here Today

First, I would like to thank everyone for coming this evening.  I would also like to take the opportunity to thank everyone on the planning committee for all of the work they did to organize this.  I speak for everyone here in thanking Debbie Silva (Garrison), Debbie Flores (Braden), Janet Olsen (Halsey), Judy Hurado (Rostyk), Jan Stagis (Rothenfluh), Georgia Jeffries (Rios), Kathi Mehrten, Vicki Leonetti (Teore), Mike Martin, and Jesse Arrequin.  (Applause)

We are here today because we mean something special to each other.  We helped shape each other at a time when our characters were still very impressionable.  The Panther community has had strong traditions that have enriched us.  Many of our parents were also Panthers!  We all probably had members of the high school staff that cultivated our minds and souls.  The great diversity of our student body challenged us to think outside the comfortable bubble of our individual cultures.

The memories of these four ever so brief years continue to enrich our lives.  Today, we are here to celebrate each other and commemorate those classmates and staff members who played particular roles in shaping us.  I would like to briefly mention three people who are no longer with us that I have thought about a lot in preparation for this event.

Coach Bill Griffin was a remarkable man.  He embodied a love of life and people that was infectious.  It would be hard to find a person who contributed more to our high school than him.  He graduated from high school as a Panther, then became a teacher and coach at our school.  Ultimately, he became a principal of Washington Union and superintendent of the district.

Coach Griffin was born into a family that lived on Britten Avenue, not far from the Cherry Auction.  He was an Orange Center kid!  When his family moved into Fresno about the time he entered high school, he took the city bus to the outskirts of our district and then walked to where he could ride the bus to Easton every school day.  He knew what a special place this high school was and is.  He dedicated himself to all of its students.  Insofar as football is a metaphor for war, he was that officer for whom every soldier on the team was willing to sacrifice.  He made me better.  He made all of us privileged to work with him better.

Johnny Ramirez.  John was a man from a very young age.  Like many of the children of Mexican immigrants in our class, he would come to our demanding football practices in August only after he had spent the day helping provide for his family by working in the hot August sun.  Johnny had just enough mean in him to make him a great football player.  He had enough love in him to make him a great teammate.  Johnny’s hard work and courage were vital to our success as a team.  They were also vital in making us better men.  He is a reminder that leadership is often more about deeds than words.

Joanne Tiller Warden.  Our class angel, at least one of them.  As angels tend to do, she left us much too soon.  It is up to us, of course, to keep her spirit alive.  It was a spirit of kindness, gentleness, serenity, and joy.  Even today, if you are sad or angry, just look at a picture of Joanne in the yearbook.  Any picture.  It will brighten your day in whatever way you need it to be brightened.

There are so many others to talk about.  Let us share our memories.  Let us continue to enrich each other!  Thank you again for coming!

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