The sun sets in the late July still air. Small white lights line a path of almost a dozen pristine 1950s cars as Dion and the Belmonts softly sing, “A Teenager in Love.”
Red vinyl bar stools line the long white soda fountain. Black and white posters of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline hang crowded upon the wall. Old friends laugh and exchange warm hugs.
The My Girl Drive-In and Museum in Kingston, Washington hosted the 60-year reunion of Mercer Island High School’s inaugural graduating class. The class of nearly 80 students were the first class to graduate from Mercer Island High School in 1958.
Senior class president, Erik Peterson, along with vice president, Kay Wiley, have been in charge of organizing the reunions every five years.
“I was elected as president in our junior year. I didn’t even run! [laughs] I didn’t know I would end up being president for life,” he said. “This is our 12th reunion in 60 years.”
After 60 years, Wiley said the class is “closer-knit” than most others.
“It’s so good to be with everyone again. There’s a lot of bonding. We picked the school colors, wrote the fight song, picked the mascot—everything was given to us. The school district did a great gift by asking us to be involved and letting us have a say,” she said. “I think it makes us a bit tighter than the average high school class.”
Twelve students have known each other since kindergarten and call themselves the “Graham Cracker 12.”
“There are 12 of us that started out as kindergartners. In kindergarten, the big deal was to get a glass of milk and a graham cracker before taking a nap, so we called ourselves the ‘Graham Cracker 12,’ and that group of 12 went on through high school together,” Peterson said.
Bill Webster is one of two class members who still live on the island. He said he loved his experience at MIHS.
“I hardly missed a day. I got sick a few days when I was a sophomore, but I had almost perfect attendance. I hated to miss school and I felt so guilty when I had to miss a day,” he said. “I just loved going to school.”
Following his time at MIHS, he pursued a career in dentistry through Whitman College and University of Washington, but found his passion in accounting. He is now a certified financial planner with KMS Financial Services, Inc. and teaches investment classes at Highline College part-time.
Before dinner was served, Peterson welcomed class members and spouses with a speech. He paid thanks to the class organizers and communicators and presented a hand-crafted 24-hour clock created by class member, Mike Terry, who recently passed away.
Peterson called the remaining seven members of the Graham Cracker 12 to the stage to pose for pictures. Other class members were invited to the stage to sing Mercer Island High School’s fight song—a song written by this class.
As the night wore on, class members laughed over old times and exchanged photos of their children and grandchildren.
Bob and Kay Wiley reminisced over how they met.
“Being asked to Tolo as a junior was one of my favorite memories,” Bob Wiley said. “I had already been asked but then she [Kay] asked me and I really wanted to go with her, so I turned the other girl down. But after graduation we went to different colleges, but kept bumping into each other at social gatherings. We decided we needed to stop just bumping into each other and finally get married.”
“Now we’ve been married for 57 years,” Kay Wiley said.
The couple completed their education through Central Washington University and pursued careers in teaching in the Highline School District.
Peterson, Ty Stroh and Bob Tjossem smiled over pictures of their six-month Vespa trip to South America just one year after graduation.
“Our mothers thought we were insane but we knew we were going to do it,” Peterson said. “It is still one of the most life-changing experiences I think any of us has had. It forced us to grow up and adapt to real life.”
Class members also discussed what it was like growing up in Mercer Island, how much it’s changed and what they wish MIHS students knew now.
Many class members commented on how Mercer Island was the perfect place to grow up back then because it was just far away enough from bustling Seattle but large enough to have a sense of community.
“It was a great place to grow up because it was still pretty isolated and so there was a lot more opportunity to bond and just be kids,” Bob Wiley said.
“It was more than a place to get educated, it was a place to grow up and bond,” Kay Wiley said.
Other class members said they wish they could pass advice along to current MIHS students. Stroh said students should be able to enjoy life and take risks when they need to.
“Enjoy life but don’t enjoy it too much,” he laughed.
Peterson mirrored a similar response.
“Don’t be as conventional as everyone else. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and do things that take you out of your comfort zone,” he said. “You can’t let life-changing opportunities pass just because they don’t fall within your plan. But more than anything, just stay good people.”