The BLS Class of ’77 – By the Numbers
Forty-five years ago this week, I walked across the stage at Hynes Auditorium in Boston, one of 226 graduates of the Boston Latin School Class of 1977. It was the culmination of a six-year odyssey. Our class looked a lot different than it did when we arrived on Avenue Louis Pasteur in September 1971 – and not simply because of the physical changes that occur from the beginning of 7th grade to the end of 12th grade or because it now included girls.
A lot had changed since we were herded into the BLS Auditorium as “sixies” for “the speech” that told us where we were, who we were, and what we had signed up for – one of those events in your life that none of us will forget. We remember the history – those names on the wall. And most of all, we each remember some version of headmaster Dr. Wilfred O’Leary telling us look at the boy on your left and the boy on your right, two of the three of you won’t be here in six years. Welcome to Latin School.
While decluttering the house earlier this year I came across a box with some high school memorabilia (aka, recyclable junk). Alongside Latin, math, and French class notes and worksheets were copies of the annual “Catalogue of the Boston Latin School” from 1971, 1973, and 1977 – our 7th, 9th, and 12th grade years, the beginning, the middle, and the end. Seventh and ninth grade were the years students entered BLS.
In addition to providing the school history, course of study, a listing of clubs and extracurricular activities, and a record of the scholarships, prizes, and awards won by the previous graduating class, the Catalogue contained class lists. Data!
With time on my hands and data in my hands this was my opportunity to check the accuracy of Doc O’Leary’s prediction or proclamation.
Had two out of every three of us, like Elvis, left the building by the summer of ’77?
I opened an EXCEL spreadsheet and started typing.
Bottom line is that the final numbers were more like 50% of us, rather than 33%, were left standing in 1977; so, more than 1 out of 3, but not quite 2 out of 3 didn’t make it. I have to give Doc some credit, though. You can’t say “1.5 of the 3 of you won’t be here”, and “look to your left OR to your right” just doesn’t have the same chilling effect.
There was a lot of coming and going in the Class of 1977 over the course of six years. As it turned out, in September 1971 we didn’t yet have our valedictorian, football captain, or head cheerleaders – almost all of the critical elements that define a high school class.
When the 226 members of the Class of ‘77 crossed that stage on June 13, 1977, 170 remained from that September 1971 assembly. The other 56 joined our ranks at various points along the way.
How did we get there?
The December 1971 Catalogue lists 324 of us in the Class VI (seventh grade).
They distributed us across 11 homerooms of approximately 30 students each on the third (top) floor of the school. Over the next six years we would slowly make our way down to the first floor as we counted our way down from Class VI to Class I.
We came to BLS from across the 13 “neighborhoods” of Boston, with 53% of us living in Dorchester, West Roxbury, Roslindale, or Hyde Park – plus a couple of kids with addresses outside of the city. That distribution stayed pretty much the same through 1977. But kudos to the band of 23 sixes from Jamaica Plain, 74% of you made it all the way through!
Of course, we were all boys. Girls were not admitted to BLS until the fall of 1972 and did not enter our class until ninth grade in 1973. It was a bit strange during eighth grade with everyone from family to reporters to strangers on the T asking what it was like to have girls in the school. First, although there were girls in the school they weren’t in our classes. Second, although girls were new for BLS, the previous year had been the first and only year that most of us had attended school without girls. Context.
By the time the 1973 Catalogue was published our class had been reduced from 324 to 311, and we were now occupying the dozen homerooms from Room 214 to Room 225. We shared the second floor with students in Class V and Class III.
The almost negligible delta of 13 in our class total in no way reflected the changes to our class roster that had occurred between Class IV and Class IV.
We had lost 99 of our Class VI classmates, reducing our total from 324 to 225. In just two years, we were down 30% – or almost all the boys to our left. Many of those students left BLS to return to a BPS “neighborhood” high school, others attended one of the Catholic high schools in the city, and some families were part of the stream of moving from Boston to the suburbs. Some of our classmates, however, were still in BLS as members of Class V – having repeated either seventh or eighth grade.
Our class had picked up 22 such students who were originally members of the Class of ’76.
Another 64 students had entered BLS and the Class of ’77 that fall as ninth graders.
Our net loss of 13, therefore, was the end result of losing 99 students and adding 86.
At this point, a total of 410 students had been members of the Class of ’77 at some point.
We entered our high school years as a class of 311 students – 287 boys and 24 girls.
By the time we made it to Class I, senior year, only eight first-floor homerooms were needed to house our class of 230 students.
If the hope in September 1973 was that we had made it through the storm of seventh and eighth grade and things would settle down during our high school years, well, that hope was short-lived. On top of the 99 students lost between 1971 and 1973, we dropped an additional 91 between 1973 and 1977 (plus four more prior to graduation).
This time, however, only 10 repeating students were added to the class – and eight of them made it to graduation.
Of the 95 students lost prior to graduation, 55 were members of our 1971 Class VI. For those keeping score, we started at 324 and ended up at 170 – 52% of the original class. As stated above, not quite look to your left, look to your right but close enough.
Among the 64 students who entered the class in ninth grade, 37 remained at graduation (57%), including 17 of the 24 female students (71%).
Finally, 11 of the 22 students who entered the Class of ’77 between seventh and ninth grade were among our 226 graduates.
When all was said and done, 420 students were members of the BLS Class of ’77 at some point in time.
On June 13, 1977, 226 of us (54%) graduated from Boston Latin School.
“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.” – Emerson
The Only Constant is Change
Doc O’Leary told us our class was going to change, and it changed. Although I didn’t realize it until years later, the message also was right there in the school symbol – those suckling twins Romulus and Remus. Only one of them survived to build Rome, and hey, watch your back, Remus.
It would be easy, therefore, to look at the numbers above for our class and conclude that although our class changed, Boston Latin School stayed pretty much the same during our brief stay. But other numbers in those three Catalogues tell a different story.
Our senior class of 230 was significantly smaller than Class I when we entered the school in 1971 (281) or Class I in 1973 (329). More striking is the ratio of Class I to Class VI in each of those years and the size of Class VI in 1977.
We know that major changes were taking place all around us between 1971 and 1977 – inside and outside of the school. First, of course, girls were added to the mix. And there was school desegregation in Boston – forced busing. In addition to making the commute to and from school more exciting each day, the desegregation rulings affected BLS admissions policies, and their aftermath affected the admissions pool. Both of these changes would have and continue to have a profound impact on the school. Those changes are reflected in the numbers.
But as Benjamin Franklin said, “When you are finished changing, you are finished.”
So, BLS continues to change, as it must and as it should, in order to fulfill its mission.
The “look to your left and look to your right” message changed to one of encouragement and support. The enrollment numbers on the Department of Education website say that the class size stays pretty constant between grades 7 and 12.
But I’m confident that even if their numbers stayed the same, just as we did, the students in the BlS Class of 2022 experienced profound changes over the course of their six, four, or seven years at BLS.
That will not change.