SAUGUS — The first thing that occurred to Janice Jarosz once she began doing research on the Saugus High class of 1918 is that tremendous number of them who were first-generation Americans.
Their perspective is a little bit different than the outlooks of high school graduates a century later.
“The graduates (in 1918) were so grateful just to have graduated,” said Jarosz, a former selectwoman who has worked on many town committees and is a one-time Town Meeting member. “A lot of people back then may have made it to their sophomore years, but then they had to leave school and go to work. They had to keep their families afloat.”
Jarosz, earlier this year, came across a number of scrapbooks from the 1918 Saugus High yearbooks that her great-aunt bequeathed to her many years ago.
“She didn’t graduate with that class,” Jarosz said. “I don’t even know how she got them.”
But Jarosz is glad she did. From the writings of the 1918 graduates, she feels she’s come to know them on a personal level — and she loves what she’s found out. So much so that she’s working on a presentation in conjunction with Saugus cable TV director Ronald Nadeau she hopes will air in September that brings to life some of the writings of the graduates.
“I love this project,” she says. “It’s been fabulous.”
She is struck by how well some of the graduates wrote, especially the valedictory address by Alice Elizabeth Phillips on living through the war. World War I had just ended a year earlier, and students were still sorting events out. As a result, she said, a lot of the writings in the yearbook had a patriotic theme to them.
“These graduates didn’t talk about what college they were going to go to, or how much money they were going to make. It was all very patriotic — a love of country. There weren’t any cross words written about this country. Their perspective was that they were so focused on the country and how to serve it.
“I won’t say the times were better,” she said. “They probably weren’t. But I think they were a little simpler.”
Jarosz hopes that the retrospective will air on cable for three evenings, with the idea of bringing these people, and what they thought and felt, to life.
“I want kids today to see how they dealt with life,” she said. “Kids 100 years ago went through a lot, but I think it taught them coping skills that they just don’t have today, because life is so different.”
A large part of the retrospective will focus on graduate Edna Trigg, who wrote an essay called “America as Represented Through Literature.”
“Remember, now, there wasn’t any internet in 1918, so for her to gather up all this literature she had to actually go to a library and find it in books,” Jarosz said.
Different members of the Saugus community will provide voiceovers for the different passages cited. Among those quoted were Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain” (written after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination), and Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Old Ironsides.”
“We hope when we’re done with this, we can give it to a history class so it can be taught,” she said. “It’s important to study history in high school.”
Also interesting, she said, were passages in the book that alluded to events from 1918, such as the Red Sox winning the World Series. And she was fascinated by the list of days when the flag should be clearly displayed. Among them were both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays (they were two holidays back then), Inauguration Day, the Battle of Lexington, Battle of Manilla Bay on May 1 (Spanish-American War), Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Battle of Bunker Hill, Independence Day, Labor Day, Lake Erie Day (a commemoration of the War of 1812), Columbus Day, Battle of Saratoga and surrender at Yorktown (American Revolution).
“When I see the pictures of these kids,” she says, “I feel as if I know them.”