Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Suzanne Westaway ’54
Suzanne Westaway, Class of 1954 and Lauralee Westaway, Class of 1957
We (my sister Suzanne and I) grew up on the Rockridge border so instead of going to Claremont, we went to Woodrow Wilson. When we got to Tech, there was a mix of kids from all middle schools. I was very conscious that people from Claremont were wealthier and smarter and had had a better education than we had had at Woodrow Wilson. After our first year at Tech, people at Woodrow Wilson were interviewed because so many of us had gotten straight A’s in middle school, but we weren’t doing so well at Tech. More had been expected of students at Claremont. Ours wasn’t bad, but there was definitely a divide. Both Suzanne and I have kept in touch with lots of high school friends, but not in touch with that many from Woodrow Wilson. More of our friends in high school had gone to Claremont. We were on a different path and took college prep classes whereas friends from Woodrow Wilson were taking typing. I meet people at reunions that I knew all my life, but never had a class with them at Tech. The school was physically divided. The south part of school was business and the north part was college prep. The English classes were also very different¬ writing business letters vs reading A Tale of Two Cities. The school was more divided this way than along racial lines. A lot of my friends feel the school wasn’t as racially segregated as it became later. We had a lot of Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican (term used at the time) friends when we went to college and maybe 20% black. We weren’t so conscious of that. Maybe other people were. People who go back to reunions tend to be those who had a pretty successful time in high school and were happy. A lot of African Americans and Chinese come to our reunions, so based on that, I think they were pretty happy.
We were part of the journalism class at Tech and that class was split into two sections. One group published the newspaper ( The Scribe) and the other published the yearbook. Everyone was given a story or a page or a section. The editor would assign the people to the task. We went to Laney Trade School in downtown Oakland once a week to use their linotype machines. We spent the afternoon using their print room. I (Lauralee) had a locker at Laney Trade with a shirt in it to protect my clothes from the ink. The school paid for all of it. The head of the printing program at Laney Trade pulled me aside and told me I had a talent and should think about getting into printing. He said that I had an eye for design and lay-out and that this would be a good field for me. I didn’t feel that I was good enough to go into journalism, but I have no regrets about having majored in journalism. It got me ready for everything else I ever did. There is nothing I ever did that didn’t benefit from being able to write. You don’t get that from English classes. Journalism classes make you think in an orderly way and make you aware of the important issues.
At Cal, the racial divide kicked in. We never mixed with Asians kids. They all sat together in the library. But generally it was a good atmosphere. Times however were starting to change. We took things less seriously than those in the early 50‘s. We were into rock and roll and Elvis Presley and we wanted more freedom. We were active in school government and we were all very opinionated. At this time, we were becoming aware of politics in general. I remember being aware of Adlai Stevenson and Truman and the differences between them. We let our minds be open to more liberal traditions.
Suzanne went back to school and got a Masters in English and started a boat business and manufactured Lazer boats. One design ended up being a successful boat. I helped a friend write something and then one thing led to another. I did a little bookkeeping and eventually became Comptroller of the business. I also did some theater. I went from Cal to theater school in NY. When I came back to California, I started a company called One Act Theater Company in San Francisco and kept it going for 13 years.
Some favorite teachers were : Crystal Murphy for journalism, Ms. Beatrice Burnett for English, John Mortarotti for music, and Max Yulick for math
Kids liked their teachers. We remember almost all of our teachers and they were civil and good. There was no chaos in the classes (except when there was a substitute teacher). The staff was very competent and there was no talk of who was easier or harder.
Our generation mostly came from blue collar families or families of modest means. They were educated and very civic minded. They participated in their community. Our class made some significant donations to the Tech library fund. They respect education and have a sincere affection for the school. Some of our closest friends today are the people we went to Tech with.
Our advice for high schoolers now:
Do everything. If there is a lecture given, go to it. If there is a play, go to it. If there is a performance or whatever is happening, games, plays, participate. Be a part of everything that is going on. All of those things snowball into the things that make your life worthwhile. We went to everything. Everybody went to the football games unless you had a job and then maybe not. If there was a play, it was packed. Everyone went.
Our feelings on Tech turning 100:
It is just wonderful. Tech is a worthy institution and it means a lot to the community.