It's a bittersweet day for a grand old school.
Seniors will say goodbye to Granite High School at graduation tonight, while thousands of alumni also bid farewell as one of Utah's oldest public schools closes its doors for good. The school opened in 1906.
"I know the decision has been made, but it's hard to pack up 100 years of memories," said Granite School Board member Connie Anderson. She taught at Granite High for almost three years and voted against closing the school.
"It's hard to sing 'The Song of the G' for the last time. And it's hard to have the last graduation. And it's hard to wonder what is going to happen to the building."
The school is another casualty of tough financial times as Granite School District had to slice $28 million from its budget to keep the district in the black.
Shutting down Granite High, with its 300 students, will save $1.3 million in annual operation costs. The Granite High program will merge into the alternative school Granite Peaks High School with a mission to serve at-risk students. Granite District administrators are working with South Salt Lake and Salt Lake County in hopes of transitioning the old brick building, 3305 S. 500 East, for civic and community use.
"It breaks my heart," said Ida Coombs Bickley, 82, class of 1944. She still lives half a block from the school.
Bickley and her daughter, Connie Lynn Bickley, 49, class of 1977, attended Granite High's awards ceremony this week, along with Ida Bickley's granddaughter, sophomore Maria Bickley, 15.
All three women had vastly different experiences at the school, but all three fought for what they believed in.
Ida Bickley recalls being frustrated over girls not being allowed to take the auto mechanics class because it would require wearing pants. After graduation, she became a mechanic at Hill Air Force Base and worked on war planes.
Connie Lynn Bickley remembers 1977 as the first year girls at Granite High were allowed to letter in sports. The boys were very much against it and suggested the girls receive a charm bracelet instead. She lettered in swimming.
Maria Bickley joined other students this spring in attempts to save Granite High from closure. Students created protest signs and attended the board meeting, only to watch the school board vote 4-3 to disband the school.
"I was really looking forward to graduating from here," Maria Bickley said. She plans to attend Highland High School this fall.
The awards assembly this week ended with a slide show including photos of the historic school building constructed more than 100 years ago. The three women stood with the students to belt out the school song:
"She will remember, you'll not forget her
Though you are far away
She is calling, calling to you ever
Honor the grand old G!"
Granite High had myriad goodbye activities throughout the week, including a barbecue and student bands on the quad Tuesday. Students signed yearbooks and exchanged hugs.
Principal Carole Harris distributed memorial T-shirts. They have the school logo on the front, with the words "Honor the Grand Old G." The back reads "Forever Farmer."
Seventy students will don caps and gowns, including 43 who are headed to college, for this evening's graduation ceremony on the football field.
Student-body secretary Mayra Tiburcio, 17, said the closing of Granite High has taken away some of the excitement of graduation but has also made it "more special because we are the last graduating class."
With all eyes on them, student government leaders said they are nervous about their commencement speeches.
"It's the last graduation ever so I am going to try and do my best for our school," said Esad Ferhatbegovic, 18, student body vice president.
Tiburcio said, "We want to make it something for everyone to remember."
Goodbye Granite High
Granite District officials are organizing an open house for the public and an alumni goodbye event sometime in June. For more information or to volunteer to help, call 801-646-5000.