By STANLEY MORIGUCHI, KATELIN WILLIAMS, & TRISHA DANG
Staff Writer & Features Section Editors
Happiness is a new school. At least, that’s what greeted the first class of University High on their first day 50 years ago, marking the beginning of an era first defined by lighthearted shenanigans and a bitter district feud and now grown into an academic powerhouse producing future Ivy League graduates. Nowadays, if you asked a current UHS student their thoughts on the school, they’d probably huff and puff about high expectations to succeed, subpar cafeteria food, and the seemingly never-ending traffic, but back in the infancy of UHS there was a buzz of excitement in the air for fresh beginnings and the school was genuinely appreciated by the student body, something that has seemed to disappear.
When University High School was first developed, it was originally part of Tustin Unified School District (TUSD). Irvine wasn’t even a city, just a plot of land consisting of cattle farms and ranches. However, tensions between TUSD and the newly opened campus were high. TUSD removed the carpeting of the new campus and slashed the budgets on everything because they were aware that UHS would no longer be a part of the district later on. Thus, when UHS was first started, there was barebones landscape with no stadium and a minimal cafeteria.
“You could walk around Mission Viejo High School and not be able to make a distinction between it and University High,” graduating class of 1972 alum, Nils Laurvik said. “The only difference is that MVHS has earthquake protection bars that Uni doesn’t because the district didn’t want the added expense.”
When the campus opened in 1971, the school was without a principal, since Donald Castle died just months before and never got to see the fruits of his labor, and lacked the support of the Tustin Unified School District. There was a bitter feud regarding its intrusive rules on dress code and student conduct. These strict policies made it harder to recruit new teachers and annoyed parents and students. All of UHS’s extracurricular events, such as formal dances and football games, were hosted at its sister schools, Mission Viejo and Tustin High. It wasn’t until 1971 that UHS became the first school within the new Irvine Unified School District.
Aside from its unique origin story, UHS had its own campus culture distinctly opposite of the campus culture present today. For example, there was everything from a designated smoking location on campus called “Smoker’s Hill” that was placed in the center of the campus, according to alum Walter Baranger, to students releasing a small calf and two greased pigs onto campus.
“Everything we did was definitely questionable, but it was considered legal back in those days,” Gregg Wilder, UHS alum from the graduating class of 1976, said. “It was a different culture back then, and my friends and I got away with a lot of shenanigans.”
As opposed to the current competitive nature that follows after UHS’s notoriety for its emphasis on academics and reputation for producing the great minds of the next generation, the campus culture in the ‘70s was significantly more lighthearted. Much of students’ time was spent sitting on the senior lawn, now where the 900s and 1000s buildings are, listening to bands during lunch and enjoying the company of their peers.
“People were able to make genuine connections back in the day,” Wilder said. “We didn’t have the weight of a phone holding us back. Everybody knew everybody, especially at University High.”
The very first school newspaper was released on December 11, 1970, calling on the student body to help name the paper. Many names were considered such as The Trojan Tribune or The Wooden Horse, but eventually, the name of the newspaper was decided as Univine. This lasted a while until later, when “Univine” became the Sword and Shield in December of 1985 and continues to today. Many of the issues consisted of articles talking about the latest school controversy, rating the girls and boys on campus based on attractiveness and certain distinct qualities, an admittedly questionable decision by the staff, and a humorous take on the workings of the student body. The Sword and Shield even found itself as a glossed magazine for a short period of time between 1980 and 1992, until it became the school newspaper you all know and love today.
It is reasonable to say that the ‘70s at University High was defined by an evolving culture without limitations and genuinely deserved the title of the “good old days.” The main stark trend that occurred a multitude of times within the beginning decade of UHS would be the persistent streaking attempts on campus. For example, in 1974, students streaked through the campus. Baranger, a student at the time, took a picture of the two, masked streakers: Randy Delapp in the front and Ed Poirer trailing right behind him. Later in the year, the graduation ceremony and the Irvine City council meeting were also streaked. It might come as a surprise to some, but in the 1974 football season, UHS was named as the champions of the South Coast League, something that most alum that gathered this past Friday at the homecoming football game against Segerstrom boasted about in pride. UHS barely edged out in a close game against El Toro, 21-20, in order to be named the champions and gain UHS their first championship win, something that wouldn’t happen again until 1998.
If you asked any alum from that decade about their highschool experience they would talk of inclusivity beyond the grasp of a cellphone that we now know. They would tell you of a student body filled with unmatched spirit from football games, to spirit week, to making everyday of their mere four years, or less, on campus count. 50 years later there is still something we can learn from the previous generations that walked our halls and used the same lockers and built the spirit of UHS we’ve grown to know.
“I wish everyone can experience high school the way we did,” Wilder said. “It was definitely a blast.”