The hotel banquet room was draped with the Largo Senior High colors. Guests greeted each other--some excitedly, some shyly, some with embarrassed grins. There were hugs, kisses, a few tears, and talk of marriage, babies, jobs, new homes. And, of course, there were lots of memories.
It was the first reunion of the class of 1972, the first to graduate from the school that had opened in the sprawling building on a then-rural road two years before, in 1970.
Then, teachers and administrators, parents and some students had viewed the opening of the new school with trepidation. The attendance boundaries took in students from many disparate areas, including Upper Marlboro and Palmer Park, Bladensburg and Seat Pleasant. Largo's opening separated friends who had been together since first grade, splintered athletic teams and disrupted fierce sports allegiances. It shattered family patterns, in which students graduated from the same school as siblings and in some cases parents.
But there was another fear as Largo High opened 12 years ago. In the late 1960s, racial tensions had been building within the Prince George's schools. There had been riots at several county high schools the year before. And plans were being formulated for a landmark lawsuit against the system, which resulted in court-ordered busing for integration in 1973.
"It was all a big deal: how were all these kids going to get along with each other?" recalled Pat Dingle, a '72 graduate and chairperson of the reunion, held last Friday in the Lanham Ramada Inn.
But the school opened without incident.
At the gathering of 60 people, including 41 of the 200 graduates in the class of 1972, teachers and administrators recalled their initial fears, but class members' memories were quite different.
Before she was tranferred to Largo, Holly Stone was a 10th grader at Frederick Sasscer High in Upper Marlboro, "a small town school and . . . a forever place at that time," she said. "I knew Largo would be a big change, but my feelings were very neutral. It was kind of exciting to be a member of the first graduating class." Stone became editor of the school's weekly newspaper, The Lion's Roar.
"We got along just fine, just like one big happy family," said Charles B. Coffer, 11th grade class president from Palmer Park who confessed he spent more time on the baseball diamond than in class meetings.
"There was no feeling of animosity toward anyone. I felt it worked. It was fine," said Coffer, now a member of the U.S. Capitol Police. He said students "just blotted that fears of racial tension out of our minds because we had to get together as a school. I look back on the school and say that it was great."
So what was remembered were not the problems, nor even the fears. Instead, former classmates recalled the glories: the day the fledgling football team beat the county champions, the Oxon Hill Clippers, 7-0, before going on to clench the championship, and the baseball team's three-way tie for the county trophy.
As the first graduating class, they chose the school colors (blue and white) and mascot (lion) and designed the school seal and the class ring (still in use). Murals the students painted on the gym and multipurpose room walls, under the direction of then-art teacher Leroy Gaskin, are still there. Gaskin now is supervisor of art for the county school system.
Gwen Walker Polite remembered starting the pompon club with a girlfriend.
"We were seniors for two years. We were top dog for two years in a row," she recalled with relish. Now a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines, she returns periodically to Largo career day programs to tell students about her job.
"You don't know . . . how much your class really did," James T. White, then vice principal, told members of the class after a buffet dinner. White, now vice principal at Potomac High, said the code of students' rights and responsibilities the class drafted for itself had become the model for the one adopted for the county several years later. Requests and suggestions from class members resulted in the hiring of the county's first female tennis coach at Largo and eventually brought about the county's first coeducational sports programs.
The memories lingered. Joan Yancy Arnold said the best thing about her senior year was meeting Jed Arnold, "that good-looking guy in the hallway" who later became her husband. The Arnold live in Delray, W. Va., where Jed works in construction and Joan cares for their two children.
Stephanie Snyder Zanelotti, who married another classmate, James Zanelotti, was a cheerleader and remembered that there was no senior trip and no homecoming dance.
Charles Coffer revealed that he once unwittingly signed a petition calling for his own impeachment as 11th grade class president. He said he managed to squelch the uprising.
And all around the room were the comments that invariably go with 10 additional years:
"This [reunion] coincides with my noticing that I have wrinkles."
"When I went to school with him, he was skinny and had lots of hair."