Northwestern at 100 – Part Two

When you look forward to something months away, sometimes, the event is anti-climactic.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 100th anniversary of Northwestern High School!”

The response from my opening statement was tepid, given the 300 people in the room. I’m told over 500 folks attended this event, but most were more interested in catching up with classmates than listening to what anybody was saying. A constant undercurrent of conversations was heard throughout most of the speeches. There was a speaker from each decade from the 1940’s to 2000’s. Their testimonies of what the Big N.O. meant to them were met with a not-so-polite indifference.

I felt sorry for one speaker; in particular, who traveled clear across the country from Oakland, California. The conversations got so bad that the woman who escorted him to the stage asked me why so many people were talking during his speech. I told her the fact that some of these people had not seen each other for many years and that they paid $100 a pop gave them the right to act as they pleased. In between the speakers I tried to admonish the crowd, but most of them were older than me and simply ignored me.

Rep. John Conyers got the best response. He is the most well-known Northwestern High alumni. (Detroit Tiger Willie Horton, original Supreme Florence Ballard, original Temptation Melvin Franklin, and Ray Parker Jr. are some of the other famous folks).

At one point, a guy with a mask went up to the podium and just started talking. Nobody knew what he was saying because the rubber mask covered his whole head. He was quickly led away and everybody thought that was weird. Speakers near the bottom of the list were rushed because dinner had to be served at 7:15pm sharp (choice of chicken or salmon). The best part of the evening followed the speeches and not a moment too soon.

The Al McKenzie Band (class of ’79)—keys, drums and bass—played a jazzy funky set; including, Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon. You know, I got my dance on. For the finale, Al brought up two Detroit legends, vocalist Dennis Rowland and saxman Gus Parham. Now it was a jam session and everybody was grooving. A DJ followed the band and she got the dance floor filled with alumni doing a line dance.

A couple of tunes later, I was out. A classmate who didn’t attend the event came down and took me over to a nearby casino. He said there was a pretty good band backing a Canadian singer with a weird name that I refuse to remember. I found them the least entertaining of the 3 bands I saw during my trip.

When they wrapped it up at 2am, I hopped a cab to the airport. I arrived a full 3 hours before my flight boarded. I found a seat near an outlet, charged my phone, and nodded in and out until about 5am when a breakfast place opened. I still had on a suit. By then, my shirt would not stop riding up and I looked like I spent the night at the tables, but didn’t do well.

Overall, it felt good to be in the presence of so many alumni. Some remembered my father, who taught social studies in the 60’s. Everyone looked mighty fine in their red and gray outfits. I wish more people listened to the speakers talk about what Northwestern High meant to them. I wasn’t able to convey my feelings about Northwestern fully, but overall it was a superb night.

William Stephenson


Read Part 1

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