Following in their footsteps: Class of 2024 looks back on 100 years of Franklin High School graduates

Franklin graduate Olivia Sylvester plays the drums in the parade down Main Street on Thursday, June 13 2024.

Franklin graduate Olivia Sylvester plays the drums in the parade down Main Street on Thursday, June 13 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Franklin High School graduate Noah Azers-Azers, center, gets ready to lead the parade down Main Street on Thursday.

Franklin High School graduate Noah Azers-Azers, center, gets ready to lead the parade down Main Street on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Franklin High School graduates Noah Azers-Azers (left), Virgilio Andrea, and Olivia Sylvester lead the parade down Main Street on Thursday, June 13, 2024.

Franklin High School graduates Noah Azers-Azers (left), Virgilio Andrea, and Olivia Sylvester lead the parade down Main Street on Thursday, June 13, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

 Graduate Kadance Laro (right) rings an antique school bell on Thursday as classmates  parade through downtown Franklin.

Graduate Kadance Laro (right) rings an antique school bell on Thursday as classmates parade through downtown Franklin. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Franklin High School graduates parade down Main Street in Franklin on Thursday, June 13, 2024.

Franklin High School graduates parade down Main Street in Franklin on Thursday, June 13, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Franklin High School graduates from 1969 walk down Main Street on Thursday.

Franklin High School graduates from 1969 walk down Main Street on Thursday.

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 06-15-2024 8:52 AM

As Olivia Sylvester lined up to lead Franklin’s 100th Class Day Parade, she put her sunglasses on and lifted her drum up onto her shoulders. With her blue cap and gown, this year’s class co-valedictorian led the parade with the rolls of her sticks and whistles of her classmates.

Over 600 hundred Franklin graduates returned to Central Street for the occasion. By way of rollerblades, convertibles, truck beds and trailers, classes from this year’s kindergartners, who will graduate in 2036, to alumni from 1948, paraded from the high school parking lot through downtown in a sea of yellow and blue.

Born and raised in Franklin, the class day parade was a tradition rooted in Sylvester’s childhood memories. As an elementary school student, she walked with a popsicle in hand. Other years, her class had spray bottles to cool themselves down and entertain the crowd.

And when her two older sisters graduated from Franklin High School in 2020 and 2022, she watched them lead the way in cap and gown.

Amid the day of alumni celebrations, one person was missing from the class of 1973 – Slyvester’s dad, Donald. Better known to his classmates as “Skinny,” he died in 2018.

“The Sylvester name is kind of a legacy around here,” she said. “I always have a way to keep his memory alive because everyone knew him.”

A blue butterfly and a photograph of her dad decorated the top of Sylvester’s cap.

In white block letters, it read, “This one’s for you dad.”

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The downtown celebrations kicked off graduation in Franklin, where members of the class of 2024 were pulled on a trailer in cap and gown and rang the town’s liberty bell – a relic from the old Parker Hancock School, which burned down in 1974.

This is one of the city’s many graduation traditions, tracked by the Franklin Historical Society prior to the 100th Class Day anniversary, said Leigh Webb, the president.

The historical society pulled together past programs from graduations, yearbooks and newspaper articles from over the years – including a picture from the first class day celebration in 1924.

For Mark Taylor, a graduate of the class of 1966, the yearbooks provided him with a chance to look for the name of an old teacher he’d forgotten. He flipped through the pages, with black and white photos of old classmates, in pursuit.

“He changed my life,” he said. “He inspired me and I became an honors student as a result.”

Taylor flew in from Philadelphia for the weekend to reunite with old classmates. What he remembers about his time at Franklin High School was the great teachers, he said.

On a trailer decorated with blue, yellow and white balloons, the class of 1974 – who were also celebrating their 50th high school reunion – reminded the crowd what life was like when they were at Franklin High School.

With poster signs from the float, they provided a few statistics – a new home cost $38,900; gas was 53 cents a gallon; the median household income was $11,200.

That year, they dedicated their yearbook to Judy Tibbetts, the family and consumer science teacher at the high school, who worked there for 53 years. For a national context, that was also the year President Richard Nixon resigned.

For Cindy Colby Miner and Karen Mercier O’Rourke, alumni from the class of 1974, walking with this year’s graduates in the parade allowed them to reminisce on how similar, yet different their high school experiences were.

While they attended class in the same building, the alumna laughed that they remembered their senior year as the first time a dress code wasn’t required. They were freed from wearing the standard dresses or skirts, and finally allowed to show up for senior year wearing pants.

These Franklin friendships are what define classes. Leah Cote, the class salutatorian said one friend has been by her side since elementary school – Elizabeth Femenella.

In her salutatorian speech, Cote reminisced how the school called their parents at the end of their kindergarten year with a message.

“We spend every second together and the administration vowed to never put us in the same class together again,” she said. “We were so loud and crazy. It followed us all the way until high school and of course, we got right back to our antics.”

They had one final moment together at Friday night’s graduation – sharing the stage as salutatorian and co-valedictorian to address their graduating class.

The school experience for Franklin’s class was far from normal, Femenella said in her co-valedictorian speech. Each year they were faced with a new change or challenge – from the pandemic to close out middle school to navigating new schedules in high school. But they embraced these problems together, she continued.

The community is what Sylvester leaned on too, she said in her speech. Without her dad, her classmates, family and neighbors helped define what she’ll miss most about her hometown.

“It has not been easy at all to this important chapter in my life without him,” she said. “Thank you to everyone and congratulations to the  class of 2024.”

Michaela Towfighi can be reached at mtowfighi@cmonitor.com.