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MHS Classes of 1920 and 2020 -- facing challenges

McAlester News-Capital, Okla. — James Beaty McAlester News-Capital, Okla.

May 23-- May 23--What a difference a century makes -- or does it?

Like seniors who are graduating in 2020, seniors in the McAlester High School graduating Class of 1920 faced some unique challenges of their own.

It proved a unusual year for them, too.

While 2020's seniors are graduating amidst the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted the original graduation plans of that class, the 1920 class of seniors at MHS had faced the 1918 pandemic, sometimes called the Spanish Flu, just two years prior to their graduating year. Many of them would have been sophomores in 1918.

Then, in 1919, McAlester High School burned. In response, voters in the McAlester Public Schools District approved a bond package to construct a new high school building and the beginning of construction soon followed.

In the meantime, 1920 MHS students attended class at an alternate location in an empty building on Grand Avenue, now known as Carl Albert Parkway.

Today, graduation ceremonies for the MHS class of 2020 are tentatively set for June 6, at a time and place to be determined, due to the COVD-19 pandemic.

Mucj like other seniors at schools in Pittsburg County, throughout Oklahoma, across the United States and around the world, MHS seniors in Class of 2020 are no doubt disappointed in how circumstances outside their control have affected their final year of high school.

Likewise, seniors with the MHS Class of 1920 desperately hoped construction the new high school building would be completed in time for them to hold their graduation ceremonies inside the new facility -- but that was not to be.

Although construction was well underway, it was not completed in time for the Class of 1920 to be the first to graduate from the new McAlester High School Building. That honor went instead to the following year's group of seniors.

The Class of 1921 became the firstto graduate from the new McAlester High School -- ironically, the same building that's now known as the Old McAlester High School at 200 E. Adams Ave. between Second and Third Streets. It now houses the McAlester Public Schools administrative offices.

At the time the MHS High School annual, known as "The Dancing Rabbit" was being compiled, the dashed hopes to hold graduation ceremonies from inside the new high school still weighed on the minds of many of the 1920 seniors.

Local historian Tom Crowl obtained a copy of the 1920 annual after a lady in Claremore acquired it during a sale, then passed it on to a member of the First Presbyterian Church in McAlester, who, in turn, gave it to Crowl -- who noticed the similarity in the two groups of graduating seniors.

The introduction to the 1920 edition of "The Dancing Rabbit" reads almost as if it could have been written by a senior from the class of 2020. The unsigned introduction to the 1920 "Dancing Rabbit" is titled "The Senior's Hope" and it reads as follows:

"It was the hope of the Class of '20 that they might be the first to graduate in the new high school," the 1920 writer noted.

"It was a sentiment, we agree, only a sentiment, attached to brick and mortar, which we regretfully gave up.

"As time went on and we began to see how long it was taking to construct such a building, we were forced to realize the great difference between reality and the unattainable, we realized our class would not be the first," the 1920 senior continued.

The last paragraph reads almost like a message from the MHS Class of 1920 to this year's Class of 2020.

"True, we are disappointed. There are many disappointments in life as we all know by this time and there is also the optimistic view to take: It is adapting ourselves to circumstances, the work we accomplish, the character we build and the way we fill our places in the world that counts and not the building we graduate from. Our education is not affected in the least," the 1920 senior wrote.

"The saying "A Plato or Aristotle on the end of a log and a student on the other makes a university" is still true."

Contact James Beaty at


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