Last students to graduate from old high school honored at banquet

SNELLVILLE - For many in the Snellville High School class of 1957, it's not hard to believe 50 years have passed since they graduated.

"When I look in the mirror and look in the annual and see what the years have done it seems like it's been 50 years," said Shirley Watson. "But they've been good years."

Those changed appearances made recognizing old friends a little difficult when they first reunited at Snellville Methodist Church on Saturday night, but as time progressed, the names, faces and memories seemed to flood back to everyone.

"When you first walk in you don't recognize anybody until you start reading name tags," said Jim Howard, who graduated in 1957 and said he hasn't seen most of his classmates in 25 years. "But then the longer you're around, the faces come back in to where you remember how they looked back then."

"Nobody changes," said Bette Spence Pitillo, another member of the class of 1957. "Physically they change, of course, but everyone's the same in their personalities."

The class of 1957 has the distinction of being the last group to graduate from Snellville High School before it joined with other schools to form South Gwinnett High School.

The group had 28 graduates, but Saturday's gathering was much larger. The Snellville High School Alumni Association tries to bring together as many of the school's graduates as possible at its annual banquet, which had more than 300 people in attendance this year. The group even had several members from the class of 1934.

But the class of 1957 was the one being honored Saturday night as its members reminisced about going to school in a county much different 50 years ago.

Most of the group started off telling how much stricter things were when they were in school. They remembered how students didn't act up like they do now because teachers had paddles and weren't afraid to use them.

But as the talking continued, the incriminating stories began to come out.

There was the time the entire class skipped school to go pick cotton and earn money to pay for their senior trip. The problem was they picked the wrong place to go pick cotton.

"We didn't know it was the principal's daddy's cotton patch," said Geraldine Ford, adding that somehow they didn't get in trouble for skipping.

Then there was the time on the senior trip when the group snuck out of their rooms past curfew and ran around their Washington, D.C., hotel having fun. Deloris Wilkinson, another classmate, recalls the girls getting Howard to dress up in female clothing, but of course he doesn't remember that.

Those were just a couple of the memories the group talked and laughed over Saturday night just like they had done 50 years ago.

"When we get back together it's like it was just yesterday," Wilkinson said. "We pick right back up with our conversations like it was 1957 instead of 2007."