Seniors of T.C. Williams High School said their final goodbyes at their graduation Saturday, and they also said so long to the school’s name, which they helped change.
The largely student-driven effort gained momentum last year, and a school board vote in November made it official.
“Thomas Chambliss Williams High School will officially become Alexandria City High School,” a graduation speaker said at the podium before the crowd.
Williams, an avowed segregationist, was superintendent of county public schools from the 1930s through the early 60s.
He waited five years to comply with an integration order, and he fired a system employee for joining the NAACP.
“Once I found out the guy was basically a proponent of segregation, I mean, he doesn’t represent the school,” one father said.
Decades later, the community reckoned with the school’s namesake.
“Changing our school name from one that represents hatred, racism and bigotry to one that represents unity, diversity and inclusion is absolutely reflective of who you are as a class,” Dr. Gregory Hutchins, the superintendent of schools, said.
The graduation also marked the end of a school year that held no shortage of adversity for students, staff and parents.
“All of the seniors have put in a lot of work to make the name change happen, to make a lot of things happen, and this is just a nice time to just be together and finally do it for one last time,” Lorraine Johnson, a graduating senior, said.
However, some former Titans who are now parents of Titans haven't completely warmed to the change. With high school spirit and memories, they’re attached to the old name.
“My son’s not very happy about it. He prefers for it to stay how it is. Me, too,” one mother said.
Others called the change “bittersweet.”
Later this month, the school name will be changed on signage, and a formal ceremony will take place.
Currently, the class is happy to have left its mark on Alexandria.