By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The pride of a Garfield High School (GHS) Bulldog doesn’t end at graduation—a statement that was evident on Aug. 27 as alumni from decades past filled the gymnasium for the school’s centennial celebration.
The event was several years in the making as the Seattle school’s actual centennial was in 2020, but due to the pandemic, the celebration had been delayed for two years and rescheduled five times from its original June 2020 date.
In the weeks leading up to the event, Lynn Jaffe, class of 1958 and event chair, admitted that while she was excited for the celebration to be finally happening, she was also looking forward to Aug. 28, the day after they pulled off the event.
“As you can imagine, we’re all tired,” she said with a laugh.
The all-day event included mini class reunions, musical performances by current students and alumni, as well as food trucks—some of which were owned by Garfield alumni, according to Jaffe. There was also a formal program, featuring a number of alumni speakers, with Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell as emcee. The second-generation Bulldog graduated from Garfield in 1976—not (contrary to popular belief)100 years ago, he joked to the sea of purple and white filling the stands.
“I told them I was all in,” Harrell said about his response to being asked to be involved in the event. “That’s how Bulldogs roll.”
A rich legacy of alumni
Other prominent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) alumni, include former CEO and president of Uwajimaya Tomio Moriguchi and former owner of the International District’s Bush Garden, Joan Seko—both from the class of 1955 and whose time at Garfield overlapped with Harrell’s parents. Port of Seattle Ccommissioner Toshiko Grace Hasegawa (class of 2006) was also a Bulldog.
Non-AAPI GHS alumni include musician Jimi Hendrix and rapper Macklemore—though neither graduated as Bulldogs (the former dropped out in 1959 to join the military, while the latter graduated from Nathan Hale High School in 2001).
One of the school’s most well-known alumni is famed music producer Quincy Jones (class of 1950). Garfield’s performing arts center is even named after him. Jones—who knew Harrell’s parents and actually introduced the couple—served as the honorary chair of the centennial event, though at age 89 and with the ongoing pandemic, did not attend. Instead, he pre-recorded a video that was posted on the event’s website.
“There’s nothing that a graduate of Garfield High can’t accomplish,” Jones said in the video.
“To this very day, I say with pride that I was a member of the student body who prowled the halls of Garfield in my youth. And I’m honored to be part of the rich legacy of Garfield High alumni.”
Speaking to the next and future generations of Bulldogs, Jones told them to remember that as much as they are the heart and soul of Garfield, they are also the “seeds of what our world can grow to be.”
“Remember to always do what you love and love what you do, and we’ll always be alright,” he said in the video.
During the formal program, the alumni speakers shared memories of their time at Garfield.
“I got to see the best of everyone,” Hasegawa, one of the speakers, said.
After leading the crowd in a cheer, the former Garfield cheerleader shared that while she was one of only a handful of Asian students at the time, her time at Garfield taught her to have pride in who she is. She learned how to build together as a community and how people can reach higher when they lift each other up. When you walk the halls of Garfield, you walk the halls of power, Hasegawa, the first Asian American woman to be elected to Port of Seattle in its more than 100-year history, said.
The school has also attracted big names outside of its student body, including then Senator, now former President Barack Obama, who spoke at Garfield during Hasegawa’s senior year.
And back in 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Garfield to speak as well.
“That was a highlight of my life,” said Carver Gayton, who graduated in 1956, and returned to Garfield as a teacher and was there when King made his speech.
And while the speakers shared good memories of their time at Garfield, Harrell—whose own favorite memories include a math class taught by Thomas Bailey in which they also discussed other topics ranging from politics and the Vietnam War—acknowledged that not everyone has good memories. In response, Harrell said this was an opportunity for them to make new memories.
Located in the Central District in the center of Seattle, Garfield’s student body has represented all races, backgrounds, and walks of life. Harrell noted that while he attended, the school’s racial makeup seemed pretty evenly divided—he had friends of every race. This was reflected also in the school’s extracurricular activities as well as its faculty and staff.
“[This] diversity in the truest sense…made it pretty cool actually,” Harrell said about his experience.
As a result of the school’s diverse population, a number of the speakers at the centennial event said this also meant that they weren’t afraid to have conversations about race, inequity, and other “difficult” topics.
“We transcend stereotypes,” student speaker Lakelle Bridges (class of 2023) said as she described the wide interests of Garfield students.
And while the school’s diversity and inclusion is a point of pride, there was one part of the population Bulldogs seemed to have some contempt for: the Franklin High School community. This was clear as Harrell constantly teased Seattle Public Schools Superintendent and Franklin alum Dr. Brent Jones (notably for his lack of purple attire), who was also one of the speakers at Saturday’s celebration.
But like Garfield folks, Jones wasn’t afraid to speak to difficult topics either, sharing his views on Bulldogs—from their penchant to self-identify as Bulldogs, to their competitiveness.
“They may not be the best, but they think they are the best,” he told the crowd and was met with a laugh.
Despite his affiliation with Garfield’s rival, Jones (who actually has a few Bulldogs in his administration as well as his family) described the school as a center of excellence, change, and innovation, going forward.
“If Garfield isn’t the flagship high school in the city, it’s one of them,” Jones said.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.