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After pandemic delays, D.C.-area high school graduates are reuniting

After two years of pandemic delays, area high school graduates are reuniting again. That includes alumni of the District's Woodrow Wilson High, soon to be renamed Jackson-Reed. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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correction

A previous version of this column had the incorrect date for Northwood High’s Class of 1971 reunion. The article has been corrected.

For a school that hasn’t graduated a class in 38 years, the alumni of Robert E. Peary High in Rockville are a pretty spirited bunch.

“There’s a tremendous amount of Peary spirit still today,” said Joe Chornock, Peary Class of 1972. “Even though the school closed in 1984, you wouldn’t know it.”

It’s that spirit that’s powering the upcoming reunion of Joe’s class, which in June will have a joint event with Peary’s Class of 1971.

“We actually have a couple of the teachers that are coming,” Joe said.

The past two years have not been kind to the people who plan high school reunions. I used to list D.C.-area reunions every few months in my column, but the coronavirus pandemic put most of them on hold. Only now are things starting to heat up reunion-wise. Many of the events are for classes that are playing catch-up.

“We were going to do ours last year,” said Betsy Casey, Class of 1971 at the District’s Woodrow Wilson High. “Then of course omicron came along. We canceled that.”

Her class will have a joint reunion with the Class of 1970 on May 21.

Li Fang is helping to plan the September reunion of her class: Class of 1971 at Alexandria’s Francis C. Hammond High. The pandemic may have played a role in turning the 50th reunion into what Li calls “fifty plus one,” or it could just be a certain lethargy that afflicted the graduates.

“Our class is very slow, so no one even talked about it,” she said. “We had a 41st reunion, then a 45th, then skipped 50. … The pandemic might have played into it subconsciously.”

Attendees at the Hammond reunion will be asked to show vaccination cards.

Li’s class was the last to graduate from Hammond — as high-schoolers, anyway. When three Alexandria high schools merged to facilitate integration in 1971, it was turned into a middle school.

A lot of schools have gone through changes over the past five decades. Wilson is shedding its original name, changing it to Jackson-Reed High in honor of Edna Jackson, the school’s first Black teacher, and Vincent Reed, the school’s first Black principal.

“They were both there when we were there,” Betsy said.

The Wilson reunion will include a tour of the school for alumni who may not have seen it since it was renovated and enlarged.

The reunion, Betsy said, “is something to look forward to,” even if she’s keeping an eye out for news of the next round of covid-19.

Joe and his Peary classmates will visit their old school, too. It’s now home to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, but traces of Peary — named after the Arctic explorer — remain.

“We know that the original floor tile where the Peary seal is, is still in the floor outside the office,” Joe said. “The last time we were there, the Peary husky mascot was still on the wall in the gym.”

In keeping with the school namesake, the joint cocktail party before the two Peary classes split up for their own festivities is being called an “icebreaker.”

Get it? Arctic explorer? Icebreaker?

I asked Joe if he’d been the class president.

“No,” he said. “I was the class clown.”

These local schools are planning reunions:

Francis C. Hammond High Class of 1971 — Sept. 9 and 10. For information, visit “F.C. Hammond Class of 1971 Alumni & Friends” on Facebook, email weilifang1998@gmail.com or text Li Fang at 919-452-3988.

Robert E. Lee High Class of 1971 — Oct. 1. For information, email Nancy Weston Noel at xmasnw@aol.com

Northwood High Class of 1963 — Sept. 30-Oct. 2. For information, email Maureen Novak at monovak45@gmail.com.

Northwood High Class of 1971 — Oct. 15. For information, visit northwood71.classquest.com/ or email Brenda Coffman Graninger at bgrani27@aol.com.

Robert E. Peary High Class of 1970 — Oct. 8. For information email REPeary1970@gmail.com or search for “Robert E. Peary High School Class of 1970” on Facebook.

Robert E. Peary High Classes of 1971 and 1972 — June 10 and 11. For information, email R.E.Peary1972@gmail.com or call Joe Chornock at 301-252-1988.

Walt Whitman High Class of 1971 — May 14. For information, visit myevent.com/waltwhitmanhsclassof1971 or email Marcie Leibowitz at hleibow@aol.com.

Woodrow Wilson High Classes of 1970 and 1971 — May 21. For Class of 1970 information, email jblevy52@gmail.com. For Class of 1971 information, email wilsonclassof1971reunion@gmail.com or visit “Woodrow Wilson (D.C.) Class of 1971 50th Reunion” on Facebook.

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