GLS 40th Reunion Cheryl Byrne Communications

Hail Girls’ Latin School–40 Years On

Next week, the Girls’ Latin School Class of 1976 will gather to celebrate our 40th high school reunion. We were the last all-girl graduating class from GLS, the country’s first college preparatory high school for girls. In 1971, the Legislature passed a law ending “gender discrimination” in the two Latin Schools (quotes are mine.)  There were a couple of boys that joined in the 9th grade in 1992, but they did not last very long. The school name was changed to Boston Latin Academy a few years later. So we were it. It says Girls’ Latin School (Schola Latina Puellis Bostoniensis, actually) on our class rings and diplomas.

We graduated in the bicentennial year. The majority of the class started in the seventh grade in 1970, the same year the Beatles broke up and “All my Children” debuted. Two years later our class was complete, albeit with a couple of boys added. For our entire time at GLS, we were kept in alphabetical order. I sat behind Kathleen Brennan and in front of Kathleen Brooks for six years. (Fun fact, there were 7 Kathy/Cathy’s in our homeroom. We had to come up with some inventive nicknames to get through the next 6 years.) We experienced death early when a classmate, the first alphabetically, died suddenly and of an unnamed illness early in our first year.

We were a little too young to be full-fledged hippies, but we were just in time for disco. It was the decade of Nixon, Archie Bunker, Peter Frampton and Helter Skelter. The Equal Rights Amendment and Gloria Steinem. The ERA came before Congress in 1970  and Gloria Steinem wrote then in a Time Magazine essay, What It Would Be Like If Women Win:

“Schools and universities will help to break down traditional sex roles, even when parents will not. Half the teachers will be men, a rarity now at preschool and elementary levels; girls will not necessarily serve cookies or boys hoist up the flag.”

We did not win–the ERA at the time of its demise only needed three states to ratify for adoption–and not serving cookies turned out to be hazardous for women .

We were however among the first women who could apply to most any college in the country, and most of us did. We were no longer limited to women’s colleges. I desperately wanted to get into Holy Cross, previously all male, to continue our family’s connection through my grandfather and my uncle. Perhaps if I had just applied myself more.

GLS at the time was in Codman Square in Dorchester and most of us had to take public transportation to get there. This meant an hour+ commute each way for those of us from the far-flung neighborhoods of South Boston or Hyde Park, Brighton or Charlestown. We were witnesses to, rather than participants in Boston’s difficult forced busing years. We were not a homogeneous group then, and we are not now. We are gay, straight, grandmas, taking care of aging parents, raising special needs children, empty nesters, married, single, working, retired. We never left Boston, we moved to the suburbs, we’re ex-pats in Portugal and France, we’re teaching yoga in Mexico. We wrote books, earned PhDs, work in retail, or work for ourselves.

Too many of us have passed far too young, and we will mourn our lost classmates when we gather.

What we have in common, besides our shared experience, is a fond memory, if not for our high school itself, for each other. GLS was hard. The academic work was challenging, and was compounded by difficult teachers and administrators. Yet we forged friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

Facebook for all its faults, has become a tool that keeps us together. Through our class group page, many of us have become good friends even though we barely knew each other back then. We have supported each other through illness, the death of our parents, job losses, and just plain life. There are nearly 90 members of the class of ’76 attending our 40th reunion. This is classmates only-no one is bringing a spouse or partner. That is well over half of our graduating class. And it speaks volumes; or perhaps more appropriately sings volumes, in the words of our school song:

“Hail Girls’ Latin School, fair alma mater whose fame fills the land nor even stops at the shore.
Far flung her call her benign invitation to drink deep the cup at her fountain of lore.
Sing out your joy and pride. Sing paeans glorified. Stand by your school and rejoice in her fame.
Stand by her gallantly and fight for her valiantly, in all times and places her greatness proclaim.”