It blows me away that it’s been 40 years since I graduated from high school. 40 years!! 

I am a member of the class of 1983. And while that world of the early 80s does seem like a lifetime ago it just doesn’t seem possible that it’s been four decades since I was wondering what my future looked like as a senior in my suburban high school. 

I look back at my high school years with a general fondness but not the outright sentimentality some have for them. I was – and still am – lucky that I had some great friends who made the experience fun and created a lot of special memories. I also lucked into taking an elective my freshman year that turned out to be my passion throughout high school – journalism. 

I began as a cub reporter as a freshman and showed enough potential that I was named sports editor my sophomore and junior years. As a senior I moved to news editor where I was responsible for assigning articles to the staff. Our journalism teacher was a former journalist herself – Ruby Bernstein. In hindsight I consider her to be one of the best teachers I had at Northgate despite butting heads on a regular basis throughout my time there. 

Ruby (she was the first teacher I remember who insisted we call her by her first name) was tough and demanding. She wanted The Sentinel to resemble a professional newspaper as much as possible. She had high expectations for me and the rest of the staff – and this resulted in a lot of awards (for both the paper and myself) as well as some great experiences. These were the final days of the typewriter era with school papers – we didn’t use computers at all. We would have to type out stories (figuring out column width and font sizes) on special paper that was cut/stripped and pasted onto sheets that were then photographed, developed and then printed. It was old school in that school back then. 

I was proud of our work and saved a number of copies of The Sentinel from my senior year. They were stashed in boxes along with lots of other memorabilia from the era – posters, records and lots and lots of written (!) letters and cards. 

In the midst of our pandemic lockdown I dug out those boxes and began rummaging through them. I had forgotten just how controversial and eventful our senior year was and thought about how different high school life was for us in the early 80s compared to my teenage sons today. We never had to think or worry about a mass shooting in school – although we did have a bomb threat (that we all mostly laughed off). Alcohol was overwhelmingly the drug of choice for teens and it was much more acknowledged/accepted back then than I think it is today. Smoking was allowed at school in a designated outdoor area dubiously called the “Cancer Cove.” Students arrived via cars (their own or parents) or they walked or rode their bikes. There were no buses for students in California (thanks to Prop 13 in the 1970s). 

So I invite you to join me on a short trip down memory lane through the lens of some of these 40 year-old headlines, articles and commentary. 

September 24, 1982

Our senior year got off to a rousing start when I reported about what school officials called “Illegal hazing” of freshmen at a school rally that led to suspensions of multiple football players. What did they do? I wrote:

“In the middle of the lunch time rally, the group ran into the gym armed with fire extinguishers filled with water and proceeded to spray the bleachers full of freshmen. Obviously stunned by such action, many freshmen attempted to escape out of the bleachers causing the “dangerous situation.” 

September 24 1982 - Freshmen Hazing

The football team went on to complete its most successful season to that point in school history – appearing in the regional championship game at the Oakland Coliseum. But the suspensions were a hint to what would follow throughout the school year.

October 29, 1982

It was the week after Homecoming at Northgate and the headline celebrated the Senior class capturing spirit week. Pictures of the Homecoming Court dominated the front page of The Sentinel. But based on my observations today (with 17 year old twins in high school), spirit week (and dances in general) aren’t much of a big deal anymore. 

October 29 1982 - Class of 83 Spirit

The quote that caught my eye was “Drugs are out, and alcohol is in.” This came from Vice Principal Gomer Arnold (who was responsible for discipline)  in an article I wrote headlined “Teenage drinking on the rise at Northgate.” 

Today I would say the opposite is true. We’re hearing far too many stories about teens dying of accidental drug overdoses and I think it’s far more difficult for teens to get their hands on alcohol than it was back then. This quote from Northgate’s longtime (and beloved) Principal Bill Hansen still rings true. “The only thing that we as educators can do to the students is make sure they follow the law, educate them and pray a lot wherever we have a big function.” Amen, Bill. 

January 13, 1983

The school geared up for a visit from a TV star. Robert Clary, who was famous from his role on Hogan’s Heroes, toured schools and spoke about the Holocaust. “Thirteen members of my immediate family were deported to Nazi death camps during World War II and I’m the only one who came back. I’m here to teach the truth about what happened to six million Jews.”

Northgate Sentinel January 13 1983 - Robert Clary

Sadly, we continue to have Holocaust deniers 40 years later – some even elected to the US Congress.

As I mentioned before, this was a controversial school year with plenty of disciplinary issues and challenges for the administration. Sentinel Writer Amy Lagao wrote about a disturbing act of vandalism that occurred in the school’s biology department. The culprit took a beloved Oscar fish out of its tank and stuck it in the drawer of the teacher – where it died. “The person who did this had to be someone very strange or sick,” the teacher said (and I agree). 

In the meantime, Vice Principal Gomer Arnold underwent emergency heart bypass surgery. It’s entirely possible that it wasn’t a coincidence that it happened during this school year. 

February 11, 1983

Did I mention how much controversy there was during this school year? Well it got worse in February. 

February 11 1983 - Egging of Bus incident

“Egging of bus spurs suspensions; tarnished image” was a fairly tame headline given the actual events covered in the article. Six Northgate students chased and egged a team bus from Pittsburg High School. What made the act especially reprehensible was that our high school was predominantly white, while Pittsburg’s student body had a higher number of black students. One of the students who egged the bus wore a white hood. That student was suspended for five days and barred from extracurricular activities for the remainder of the year – he quickly transferred to another local high school. According to the reporting from my late colleague Nazey Toloui, some faculty and students saw the act “as simply a youthful prank.” 

40 years later we’re still dealing with too much racism and too much ignorance from white Americans – even in Bay Area suburbs. 

There was a separate controversy that was also covered in this issue. This was “The case of the ripped curtain,” which focused on another act of vandalism at the school that occurred earlier in the school year. Northgate had a very weird design, which included having adjoining classrooms separated by only accordion style curtains. It was only after the administration threatened to cancel the Junior Prom that classmates identified the culprit – and the dance was back on (but new dance-related controversies would soon emerge). 

March 25, 1983

All school dances were canceled by school administration in late February, after excessive drinking was reported at the Valentine’s Day dance. They were only reestablished after a series of new guidelines were created and passed by the administrative cabinet and student congress. 

March 25 1983

This was a dance that was sponsored and organized by The Sentinel staff (including yours truly). Because this was the major fundraiser for the school paper, we were determined to make it a huge success – and brainstormed ways to drive attendance. At that time, Air Guitar contests were just emerging and we decided to feature that during the dance. Showing my early PR chops I also had the idea to invite students from local high schools to compete in the contest. The dance was a huge success from an attendance standpoint – we had nearly twice the attendees expected. This was a problem even though there were 10 chaperones on hand. Said one chaperone: “I did notice a mood different from the last dance I chaperoned; the kids were wild and rowdy, but my husband and I attributed it to the new wave music rather than the drinking.” As one of the DJs of the dance, I take great pride in that statement. 

May 13, 1983

“Northgate cheaters face possible District expulsion” screamed the top headline of The Sentinel. Separately, I wrote about “Vandalism reaches all-time peak at Northgate.” 

May 13 1983 Sentinel Edition - Northgate Cheaters

Yes, the controversy continued. 

Three students were charged with repeatedly entering Northgate and stealing copies of tests (including a final exam). They used a stolen set of school keys and also stole a flute from a student’s locker, valued at $1000. According to the article, the students were anonymous members of “Northgate Cheaters United (NCU), whose signs featuring a rocket launch, were prominent all over the school until the suspensions took place. 

In my article it was estimated that there were up to 20 sets of stolen school keys in circulation, which also led to an increase in vandalism. 

On a positive note, Northgate student leaders hosted 32 students from Pittsburg High School in an effort to improve relations between the schools following the racially charged Pittsburg bus egging incident. They visited classrooms and had lunch together. One Pittsburg student said “Northgate’s image and the real school are two opposite things. The kids aren’t stuck up or snobby at all, and I really enjoyed them. Everyone was very friendly, I really see your school differently now and I’m very impressed.” 

How much can we all continue to learn about each other if we simply took the time to visit, talk and listen? 

June 10, 1983

This was the final issue of the school year and the cover featured 5 senior classmates – complete in their caps and gowns – jumping off an outdoor stage. It’s actually an amazing photo, especially given the technology at that time. This area is now a school pool (thanks to generous donations from one of our Class of 1983 classmates who was a highly successful entrepreneur). 

Graduation June 10 1983

This issue featured a look back at the eventful school year – as well as predictions from Seniors about where they saw themselves in 10 years. Predictions included:

It’s safe to say that not many predicted their future accurately. 

I wrote a final column in which I gave Northgate grades in a variety of areas, including Social Acceptance and Cliques (C+), Athletic programs (B+), PE department (A),  Academics (A-) and Administration (B-). I concluded that “Northgate, like any other school has its share of problems, but personally, I feel that its positive areas outweigh its negative and thus give it an overall grade of B+. 

Does NHS make the grade?

Even with the benefit of hindsight and experience, I think that grade holds up fairly well 40 years later. 

Regretfully I’m missing the copy that literally put Northgate in newspaper headlines and on national TV news. This was the infamous “Spring Love” rule that emerged from school administrative meeting notes. As News Editor I always scanned these notes and looked for something interesting that might be worth covering. This certainly caught my attention – and I assigned a cub reporter to look into it. The gist of the rule was enforcing a rule most had no idea existed: “No open affection is to be displayed on campus.” 

We wrote about it and sent a copy of the issue (as we always did) to our local newspaper, the Contra Costa Times. The “Spring Love” article caught their eye too – and they also wrote an article about it. Bay Area TV stations read that account and soon started showing up at Northgate – which was briefly nicknamed “Lovegate.” The ripple effect continued – until we made it on one of the national broadcast news networks. It was a great learning experience to see how the media works. And while there was some resentment at the time that we were being portrayed as a school with an epidemic of making out in the hallways, I now look back at the experience and laugh. Given all of the other events of the year, it was really kind of the perfect story to wrap up the year. 

4 Responses

  1. Great job, Dave. I cannot think of someone better suited to be the class historian than the newspaper’s editor. Ruby was truly a great teacher, and Nazi (sp?) and yourself were mature leaders beyond your years at the paper.

    It’s amazing how different the experiences can be for 400 people living life under the same roof. My first two years were as good as one could hope for. Success scholastically, athletically, and socially were followed by two very difficult years where nothing seemed to go right and served as a harbinger of the next few decades.

  2. Hi David,
    Wow! Thank you for a great review / walk down memory lane. You clearly have not lost your talent to articulate on paper.
    I really enjoyed this and have also kept the last issue of the paper. (Lol)
    I was at a disadvantage entering Northgate freshman year by not having grown up with our classmates like most of you did, and also having moved from CT, it was more than culture shock. But I must say, thanks to social media, it has allowed me to reconnect with many of our classmates through the years which keeps the nostalgia strong for Northgate. It was a challenging freshman year for me trying to figure out where I fit in but by senior year I was the ASB VP of the parents club and had a strong group of friends, (and still remain friends to this day!)
    Having been Parent Club VP was not a huge role but I was glad to help and appreciated the insight it afforded me.
    Some things I remember about Northgate, probably not as newsworthy as yours, but were the Carnation sales, zombies, To Russia with Love Rocket, Marching band with (were they called pikettes?) Swim team at Heather Farms, Mount Diablo, senior picnic, senior breakfast with the comedian, the school dance (might have been a Homecoming dance actually) where I was on the decorating committee, I took dance in place of regular gym class, school plays and Mock Congress!, my art teacher and drafting teacher and how I had sewing class with Marita who took the GED and left Northgate early to go on to become a runway model in Italy. I was a young mom when I saw her in a Calgon commercial! (You couldn’t miss her with that gorgeous red hair !)
    I do feel strongly that Northgate helped to shape me into the person I am today for sure.
    Now living in FL I am conflicted with going to the 40th reunion. However, I know Lisa will make it a great event. I appreciate how you’ve retained all your papers and were able to share them with us. I nominate you class historian for sure.
    Peace and Cheers!
    Sharna (White) Shumway

  3. Thanks Dave for all the great memories regardless of the outcomes. It’s great to see you are living your passion.

    After Northgate, I graduated from Chico State with a Business degree. I remet a 7th grade classmate who would become my wife, Daryn, and we had two kids, daughter and son. I was in the credit union world for 25 years, most recently as a branch manager for Patelco Credit Union in Walnut Creek. In my early 50s, I pursued and received my MBA to follow my dream of becoming a college business instructor. We moved to Idaho in 2020 where I work at a local university teaching business – undergrads and grads. We are enjoying life in our new state!

    Again thanks for the memories. I hope youbare well.

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