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Marykate Rowan: Tales of an Essex Junction High School Graduate

Have you ever wondered what Essex High School was like in the first couple years it was built? Well for starters, it was called Essex Junction High School, and according to Marykate Rowan – class of ‘72 and now a mainstream teaching assistant at her alma mater – things weren’t all that different… or were they?

“Many of the things are still the same. You still see the groups of friends,” Rowan said. “We used to congregate in the bathroom and do makeup and stuff before class.” She still keeps up with those same friends today and describes them as lifelong.

During her time as a student, some of her peers even got bused in from Colchester, as Colchester High School had not yet been built and Essex was the closest option.

Marykate Rowan’s yearbook photo

“We didn’t have busing, us in the Junction, but the townies all came in on buses. So did the kids from Colchester,” Rowan said.

Now spending time in the same halls she walked through alongside the “townies” and Colchester kids as a high schooler, Rowan finds herself remembering where she had certain classes and reminiscing.

When compared to present day EHS, she finds prevalent culture shifts.

“Nobody would ever have come to school with a bare midriff, and for the most part, you would never hear F bombs in the hall,” Rowan said. “You know, you just didn’t do that.” 

However, Rowan went on to comment about her excitement surrounding the immersive and ranging science courses Essex now offers. “That’s a big change, I would have loved all those options as a student,” she stated.

For Rowan, recounting her time as a student was overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s just a very special place for me,” Rowan said.

Below is a unique collection of stories from Marykate Rowan’s experiences during her time at Essex (Junction) High School from 1970 to 1972.

New School Excitement

I did two years in this building and two years when ADL was the high school. We thought we were in Oz when we came in and saw this place. It was brand new, huge, just so different from ADL. We were thinking, oh, we’ll never find our way around. It was a wonderful experience to come into this brand new state of the art school. Everything had been designed with all the new technology, which of course now is antique technology. My time here was absolutely fabulous. I was not one of the popular kids, but I had a super strong circle of friends. I was in more with the academic achievers. I felt very connected. I had great relationships with teachers, and that made it a really positive experience.

Freshman Orientation: Fun in PJs

One thing, and I laugh about it because of course you could never do it now, but we had something called freshman orientation. Now it would be considered harassment, but all the freshmen on a Friday night had to dress in these hideous things. The girls had to wear their father’s pajamas and the boys had to wear shower caps with bathrobes and slippers and we had to tie shoe boxes on our feet, and they paraded all the freshmen around in the gym. Now imagine that. All the upperclassmen would cheer and laugh, and then afterwards, they had a big dance to welcome the freshmen. It was so much fun and everybody loved it. Well, mostly everybody, and if you didn’t, you didn’t have to go. But as I recall, everybody went and we just had so much fun and nobody minded that we were making fools of ourselves. It was just part of being a freshman. I have a very fond memory of that.


I was on the math league. And I was not really good at math league, but I was very good with organizing the refreshments and all of that. So when we would have kids come to our school when we would host I always put on a great little after party with the refreshments and all that. I jumped in as the alternate for one session, and did surprisingly well. I was actually also on the chess team. And again, I did not play chess, but I organized the meets and got the buses and did all of that sort of stuff, so I was more of the manager, but not one of the players. I enjoyed it.

In the Business of National Success

The thing I think I was most involved with was junior achievement. We met in Burlington and it was for all of the local high schools. You could join if you were a junior or senior. We had kids from all of the schools and we met every Monday night, and we met with business people. And we set up our own little companies, and we sold stock. We made a product, we actually manufactured a product, we sold it, we kept books, and we kept the records. I was fortunate I won a local competition my senior year. And then I won a regional competition. And I went with 10 from the US to a nationwide sales competition when I was a senior, that was in Kansas City and we were treated like royalty. That was probably one of my more special activities, but I don’t think it’s around anymore.

Earth-Friendly Start-Up

Our school was part of the very first Green Up Day in Vermont. We had a big group of high school kids meet on a Saturday morning with our bags and we canvassed the whole area. That was exciting. Now when I hear green-up day on the news, I think it’s the first Saturday in May. I look back on that and I think about how I was part of that first Green Up Day.

Senior Special

So there was French, there was Spanish, and there was Latin. I had been taking French, but there was a new class being offered here. It was called Senior Special, and it was for senior girls who had never taken any home economics classes. Back then you were taught sewing, cooking, interior decorating, all this stuff. My friends and I had never had time in our schedule to take it because of academics. So, they offered Senior Special and all of my friends were in Senior Special and it was the same block as my French V class. I chose Senior Special. Monsieur Trombley, I don’t think he ever forgave me. I actually went to his funeral because we had been close. But now, Paris would have to be one of my favorite places I’ve been, and I’m very blessed. Just recently was my fourth time there, so I do love it.

Political Panel Project

One of my classes, I think it was an advanced world history class, organized a debate right in our auditorium for candidates running for Governor. It was just a small group of us who did this. So we hosted it, and we asked the candidates the questions. We got them there. We invited the community. We had a thing on the news. We had a press conference, and we had a reception after. It was very fun to be involved in something so big. We actually created an event that made a difference.

Prom: To go or not to go?

I’ll share with you one regret I have. I actually ran into this boy, now an older man, at one of our reunions and I told him it was a regret. My junior year, this boy asked me to the prom, and I was so insecure because he asked me to go two days before. Now I would have had the, you know, whatever to say, ‘Sure! I can find a dress. I can fix my hair up. I would love to do that! Let’s go and have fun!’ But, I felt insecure enough that I kept thinking ‘How would I do it? How can I find a dress? How can I get ready? How can I fix my hair?’ And I said no. And I should have said absolutely. And we should have gone and had fun, because I think he was probably fretting over asking me. Things are not as complicated now. If you like a boy, things are much more casual with going out and texting, and it’s easier. But I look back on that and I think he probably was worried and thinking ‘How am I going to invite her?’ and then when he did, I was too insecure to say yes. I should have said yes. But that’s just a part of growing up and growing into your own security and not worrying about things.

And… a few connections to the present:

Typing to Tech Center

The fact that we offer a technical center right here in our school and that kids have an opportunity for all of those programs is amazing. None of that was here. We had typing. We started off with manual typewriters, and you’re trying to get your fingers and your pinkies to hit those keys manually, and if you made a mistake, you had to unwind your paper and get an eraser and erase your mistake and then get it back into the right spot. It’s so archaic when I think of that. Now it’s computers and careers and everything else available at the tech center. It’s marvelous.

ACE Admiration

One thing that I always appreciate is now we have ACE, the Alternative Center for Education. So if kids are struggling or having issues and can’t achieve success here, there’s an option for those kids and they go off to ACE and get an alternative means of getting a diploma. We had nothing like that. I remember there were a few kids who had issues and different things, and all of a sudden they were not there one day. It was like where did they go? Where did these kids go? They just sort of disappeared and that was too bad because we didn’t really offer anything other than the mainstream.

Teacher from the Start?

I had been in Future Teachers of America and my four aunts and my mother were all teachers and I thought about that, but then when I graduated from college, I got a job with Rossignol ski company. They were in Williston at the time, and I loved it. I was there until 2000 When Nordica moved out of the area. I would probably still be there. I did sales, telephone sales. Something about the commissions got me excited, you know, I would make a good sale and be like, ‘Yes, yes!’ But after they moved, I went through a program called TAP, which was the Teacher Apprenticeship Program. It was for people who had a Bachelor’s Degree, but not a teaching license, and I went through it right here. It used to be housed at Essex. I student taught at ACE and I got licensed and just came right back to where it all started.

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Lily Larsen
Lily Larsen, Editor and Staff Writer
Lily Larsen is a 12th grader and staff writer (and editor?) for The Hive. She is largely involved in Student Government and Environmental Club. She enjoys reading, hiking, snowboarding, and crossword puzzles in her free time. You can contact her at [email protected].
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