No there were no graduations in San Pedro until 1976 when San Pedro High celebrated its first. So prior to that there were no graduations. First of all in the 1960’s and before, there was only one school in San Pedro, and that was the San Pedro R.C. School. At the end of the eight years at elementary school, students were required to sit two examinations - the Primary School Leaving Examinations, known as Primary, and the Scholarship Examination. With the first you got a certificate if you passed and this was sort of your proof of completing your primary studies. With the second exam you were able to go to high school and get a scholarship. Some of the city high schools gave their own entrance examinations. But no, there were no graduations ever at the elementary level. There was an Adventist Church with about ten to fifteen students, but they all attended the R.C. School. What about all the other private primary schools and kindergartens? Nada, they never existed.
Now there were one or two children, once in a while and not even every year, who went to high schools in Belize City, mostly Saint John’s and St. Catherine’s Academy. They graduated in Belize City, and occasionally they would throw a graduation party here in San Pedro. But that was as far as graduation went. Celi McCorkle and Martha Guerrero were among the first few and later on Iraida Gonzalez and Isela Gonzalez. Gaspar Lara, Gilberto and Liborio Gomez were among the first and later on Pete Salazar, Artemio Cardenez and a few others. Yes the few graduates could be counted. I would venture to say that there were very few graduates because there was very little interest in education for there were no jobs in San Pedro that required a diploma. Practically everyone went into fishing.
The turn of events, as far as graduation went, was with the first one celebrated by San Pedro High in 1976. There were eleven graduates and the valedictorian was Clarita Ancona Paz. The first ever graduation address was delivered by 26 year old principal at the time, your humble servant and yours truly. The first guest speaker was Hon. Louis Sylvestre, Minister of Education and Area Representative. The first honorary guest speaker was a florist from Madison, Wisconsin; Mr. Albert Felly who was and remained a long-term benefactor. And the first prom was chaperoned by Peace Corps Volunteer, Mr. Jerry Doetzer, and hosted at the famous Marino’s Club Rooftop. The grand dance followed with Los Malos Band in attendance. People lined the streets of San Pedro Village to see the graduates march in their gowns to church and then in their suits and long dresses to the prom. It was a remarkable turn of events.
A few years later the elementary started to hold graduation ceremonies in imitation to high school. And then the kindergarten followed. Today the month of June is rushed in the effort to schedule up to eleven graduation ceremonies from San Pedro Junior College to Little Angels Pre School. Long live the graduates! And let the party go on.
Photo Caption: San Pedro High School’s first graduating class 1976.