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Celebrating 50 years, Class of 66, First Poinsett Graduates, Largest Monroe High Graduating Class

Celebrating 50 years, Class of 66, First Poinsett graduates, largest Monroe High graduating class 

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Photo 1: Monroe High School Class of 1966. The largest class to graduate from the legendary school in Cocoa.

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 Photo 2: The first class to graduate from the newly built Poinsett Elementary School in Cocoa. 

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Photo 3: Monroe High School Class of 66 holds a parade from the former Poinsett Elementary School to the historic Monroe High School building.

 

 By Purvette A. Bryant

 COCOA, FL – Fifty years ago, the Monroe High School Class of 66 stood proudly as the largest class to graduate in the popular school’s history.

     Before 1966, these students stood with heads held high as the first class to graduate from the newly built Poinsett Elementary School.

    Classmates, dressed in red Wild Cat T-shirts, recently travelled from near and far to celebrate their 50th anniversary reunion with a parade as they sang “Dear Old Monroe High” while marching from old Poinsett Elementary School, now McNair Middle School, to their alma meter, the historic Monroe High School center, now Emma Jewel Charter Academy. 

    “It’s our 50th class reunion,” said, Leonard Whitehead, president of the Monroe High School Class of 66. “So, it’s our golden legacy. We’re proud that we made it this far to be able to hold this occasion.”

     Classmates from throughout the United States attended the star-studded reunion with a banquet featuring the Reflections Band, led by Monroe graduate, Ronnie Griffin. Back in the 1960s, there were so many elementary school children until many were bused to Merritt Island High School, Cocoa High School in Merritt Island and Melbourne, while other stayed at Monroe High School. Most of the students were transferred to the new Poinsett Elementary School, which was built because of the growing student population. 

    “When we came to Monroe, and graduated from Monroe, we were the largest graduating class,” said Whitehead, who played on the Monroe High School state championship team. “And being, I would call, under academically, meaning books and all the associated things with school were second hand. You know, I think we over achieved. 

    “And I say that humbly. Our class, and not just our class, but the students that graduated from Monroe from 48 to 68 were over achievers to do the things that we did with less that we had to do it with.” 

    Elese Ager, the reunion chairperson and Class of 66 First Vice President, said before Poinsett was built, elementary students would attend school in shifts because there was no room at existing schools. 

    “We would go from eight to 12. Then some of us would go from 12 to four. That was the reason why they ended up building the elementary school for us. That was a very memorable time for us because we did not have a real elementary school. 

    “We always had four classes. We had like 30 or 31 students in each class. And we’ve always had four homeroom teachers. From sixth grade to 12th grade our class was the largest class from Monroe and Poinsett.”

  The principal of Poinsett Elementary School was Naomi Ford, the first black female principal in the Brevard County Public School system. Although she was a disciplinarian, students loved her desire to see them achieve and receive the best, said Betty Moore, Class of 66 Secretary.

     Majorie Johnson, Class of 66 second vice president over fundraisers, said she attended Poinsett Elementary School as a “seasonal child.” These were children who attended school after working with their parents in fruit groves up north, then returning to school when they traveled back south. 

  “Children that went to New York every year to work,” Johnson said. “And we were there like for six months. We would leave in June. And we would get back here in November. I kind of didn’t like that because I wanted to start classes with my classmates. But, it was fine. I got used to doing it. 

  “But, a lot of things I enjoyed Poinsett because I enjoyed the teachers that we had. Ms. Juanita Johnson was my teacher. . . And believe it or not, her husband hired me at Poinsett when I started working in the school system. I stayed there for 44 years.” 

    Doretha Worthy, a Class of 66 graduate and a hard worker for the reunion committee, designed pillows, cups and other paraphernalia to remember the auspicious, once in a lifetime occasion. 

    “Monroe instilled values in me that the sky is the limit,” Worthy said. “And that you could do basically whatever you wanted to do.”  

    Following the Class of 66 victory parade march from old Poinsett to old Monroe High, the class shared memories during a program in the old high school and honored their teachers, Mrs. Juanita Johnson and Mrs. Amanda Wilson. Family members of deceased classmates and teachers were honored with family members holding candles lit in their memory. The program highlight was classmates eating lunch together again in the old Monroe High School cafeteria. The Class of 66 celebrated with an elegant banquet featuring the Reflections Band, which played a beautiful rendition of the school song, “Moon River.” Classmates swooned as Ronnie Griffin skillfully played the classic saxophone solo with passion and talent that reflects the Monroe High spirit and fortitude. 

    Gwendolyn Philips, a former sponsor and teacher at Monroe High School, said she came to the Cocoa school in 1959 and left in 1966, said smiling, “I feel like I’m here with some students I had 50 years ago. And so, I’m at home. I have come to you because I felt that I hadn’t seen so many of you in all these years.” 

    Dr. Joe Lee Smith, a Monroe High School graduate and executive advisor to the president at Eastern Florida State College, gave words of encouragement and reflections on the “legacy of Monroe High School by way of the roll call.”

    “We will find that the days at Monroe High School were wonderful,” Smith said. ‘We will find that during those days that we were cared for by a group and provided for by the very best of teachers that anyone could find. We also were happy as students. We had the finest principals.”

       The banquet speaker, Dr. Leenette Pennington, gave a resounding keynote speech that applauded the Class of 66 for professionalism and a spirit of excellence all that they do. Pennington encouraged them to maintain the example that sets the bar high.

     “This is just another commencement of sorts, given the theme that they’ve chosen,” said Pennington, the daughter of Monroe High School Principal Benjamin Morse. “My interpretation is they’re justifiably proud of their 50 years. They report to us in theme form. Telling us their current place and time. And what they are about. They tell us in their theme of their endurance. Their stability. And their desire to be remembered with purpose . . . Fifty years, still united, standing strong. Preserving our heritage.”






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