On a hot June day in 1965, more than 500 soon-to-be graduates filed into the Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum.
Graduations at the city’s Joel Coliseum are common these days. But 50 years ago, North Forsyth High School was a trend-setter.
North Forsyth’s commencement that year was the first high school graduation ceremony held in Memorial Coliseum, according to newspaper articles from the time. Memorial Coliseum opened in 1955 and was replaced by Joel Coliseum in 1989 at the site near University Parkway and Deacon Boulevard.
North’s class of ’65 moved its graduation ceremony to Memorial Coliseum so students would not have to limit invitations to friends and family.
“It was just a sea of people,” remembers Ann Dufour, one of the graduates. “Having consolidated three schools, there was some melding of students, but there was still people in the graduating class that you didn’t know.”
North Forsyth High School opened in 1963, consolidating students from Mineral Springs, Northwest and Hanes high schools. The school’s first graduating class was 1964.
Graduates from the class of ’65 still meet every five years for a reunion, and some gather monthly for a lunch group.
Tonight, North Forsyth graduates from the class of ’65 will gather at 6 p.m. at Maple Chase Country Club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation.
“It’s a chance to sit and talk and connect with old friends and maybe make a few new ones,” Dufour said.
Others are looking forward to the night, as well.
“I would not miss a reunion, because of all the friends that I made,” said Nova EllaBee Nicholson, also known as Ms. Ellie.
She recently discovered the newspaper article that she had saved about the June 2, 1965, event. She still remembers the details.
“It was hot and muggy for June … but yet people were not mad or complaining,” Nicholson said. “They were just glad to be there.”
According to an article in the Winston-Salem Journal the following day, more than 4,300 people gathered at Memorial Coliseum to watch the 519 North Forsyth students walk across the stage.
Mark Depp, minister emeritus of Centenary Methodist Church at the time, was the commencement speaker at North Forsyth’s evening ceremony.
Journal reporter Arlene Edwards wrote that Depp warned the students, “Don’t sell the past short in your enthusiasm about being up-to-date and modern.”
Edwards continued: “The past, he said, is often referred to as ‘the dead past, but its achievements have been monumental.’”
North Forsyth’s chorus sang “The Creation,” according to the article, and Principal Julian Gibson asked parents to stand while seniors gave them a round of applause.
The graduates wore maroon caps and gowns, and the platform in Memorial Coliseum was draped with red, white and blue. Blue is one of the colors of East Forsyth High School, which held its commencement the next day in Memorial Coliseum.
The article highlighted North Forsyth’s diploma ceremony as a special triumph for one graduate, Ann Poole, who broke her neck in a wreck the previous December and missed 41 days of school.
That was Ann Dufour, as she is now known. She is one of the committee members organizing this year’s reunion.
She recalls the challenges she faced just to finish her senior year after the wreck.
“It was quite a struggle, because I had to make up all the class work I had missed while I was out those 41 days … but I did (finish) with lots of tutoring and lots of help from folks,” Dufour said.
E.B. Hiatt also recalls the ceremony, which was the day before his 18th birthday. He had previously been to high school basketball games at Memorial Coliseum, but this was a new experience.
“It was festive,” he said of the atmosphere. “Everybody was looking forward to it. It was exciting because we were starting a new part of our life.”
The students had already gone through one big change with the merging of their schools.
Hiatt said, “Prior to us coming together, there was a lot of competition and rivalry in the sports area. So it was sort of a weird thing going in, from one year being rivals to next year being one school. It was an adjustment period for all of us, really.”
He attended Northwest before the merger. In the end, some of his best friends were students from the other schools, he said.
The class has been holding reunions since the 1970s.
“I think that’s a credit to the whole class,” Hiatt said.
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