When they graduated high school, every kid on the Eastern Shore attended Fairhope High School. The schools in the other communities ended in ninth grade.
And in the year of their graduation, this class was lucky enough to be the very first class to graduate from the new building, what is now known as Fairhope Elementary School.
On Saturday, the class of 1954 gathered at the Blue Marlin Restaurant in Fairhope to celebrate more than half a century of friendship.
“We were a small class and we were all really close,” said Joy Wilson. “It’s wonderful to get old friends together.”
The class of 1957 was composed of just 57 members. The group regularly hosted get-togethers but after the 60th anniversary, decided it was time to meet annually.
“We’re too old to only choose to be together once every few years,” laughed Lt. Col. Frank Connell, ret., who helps organize the annual outing. “I’m healthy. The lord has blessed me so I enjoy helping with this. Some of us see each other every week. Others just once a year.”
As class members filed in they hugged and continued conversations that were days old and months old. They also took time to remember 26 classmates who had already passed away. A single candle illuminated their names, while a classmate read the list.
Jon Cardwell, principal of the Fairhope High School, spoke to the group about the changes that the school has faced in the 65 years since their commencement day.
Now, the high school is home to 1,688 students, 1,500 more than the students of 1954 ever saw in their hallways. Today’s students are managed by 101 teachers. The crowd giggled and gasped at the numbers.
Cardwell spoke of the technological advances the school has made and the college-level studies the students were tasked with.
“I come here tonight to thank you,” Cardwell said. “What makes Fairhope special is you, the fact that you support your community and each other.
“I can’t say enough that our school is what it is because of the foundation built by people like you,” Cardwell said.
The classmates said they will continue to gather annually for as long as possible.
“Sometimes we think it might not happen but we are here and we keep on keeping on,” said Ida Zyriek.