Thursday, June 16, 2011

"a special and cherished honor"

This year, a cherished Redondo Union High School ceremony will take place for the hundredth time — the passing of the mantle.

The simple black graduation gown once graced the form of Annie Barrett on the day she graduated from Stanford University. Barrett later became vice-principal of Redondo Union High School, and in an effort to recognize students who consistently achieved academic excellence, she passed her cherished gown to the RUHS junior with the highest grades. This student became the first RUHS mantle bearer in 1911.

On the mantle’s left shoulder, the student’s initials, “DB,” and the year, “11,” are still vibrant, the yellow embroidery bright on the black wool. A glance through decades of yearbook photos highlights the gown’s evolution, as row upon row of new stitching blossomed over the gown’s sleeves, shoulders and back.

Today, cascades of initials and years stream down both sleeves and cover the body of the mantle. Time has faded some of the thread colors to soft browns and grays, and dissolved bits of stitching entirely, but it has also shown how students’ tastes have changed over the decades. The simplicity of the earliest embroidered sets of initials has given way to designs as elaborate, colorful and unique as the mantle bearers themselves.

“The mantle is the most significant cultural artifact of this school,” said RUHS archivist Terry Martinez, touching one of its sleeves. “This has a life of its own.”
Martinez displayed the mantle among other RUHS artifacts for the school’s 100th anniversary in 2005.

“Of all the things displayed, people gathered around the mantle, saying my grandma wore this, or my aunt, or my cousin. It’s like a touchstone,” she said. “It really moved me when people had personal stories to tell, because they usually see it from far away. People were just mesmerized.”

On Friday, the current mantle bearer will pass the mantle to the new bearer, the junior with the highest grade point average.

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