Carnett: Costa Mesa High's class of '62 fueled by many firsts

Costa Mesa High School's first graduating class — the class of 1962 — will hold its 50th reunion in September.

The class of '62, of which I'm a proud member, was unique in that it was the school's lead class all four years on campus. We opened the school and were upperclassmen for our entire careers!

Reunion activities are scheduled for 6 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Mesa Verde Country Club. A family picnic will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 23 at TeWinkle Park.

A guided tour of Mesa's campus will be conducted at 1 p.m. Sept. 23.

From 1957 through the summer of '58, we Costa Mesans watched eagerly as the concrete pillars and walls — and a space-age dome sitting in the campus quad — materialized along Fairview Road, across from Orange Coast College.

Students enrolled at the new facility in the fall of 1958.

That first year, Mesa had only freshmen, about 600 of them. The students came from Costa Mesa and Santa Ana Heights. Freshmen from Newport Beach also attended, but transferred to Newport Harbor High School the next year as sophomores.

During the 1959-60 school year we had freshmen and sophomores. In 1960-61, freshmen, sophomores and juniors were onboard. A full complement of freshmen through seniors was accommodated in 1961-62.

I'm convinced that the '62 grads benefited substantially from their four-year "senior status." They learned to be leaders. I was sports editor of the school newspaper as a sophomore and junior. I could never have held that post that early and long under "normal" high school conditions.

My class established many firsts at the school.

While we were still in eighth grade at Everett A. Rea and Horace Ensign junior high schools, we selected the school's colors and mascot. We picked green, black and white, and Mesa Mustangs. Actually, I voted for Mesa Marlins (the No. 2 vote-getter).

I considered it strange to name a mascot after a World War II P-51 fighter plane. I had no idea a mustang was a horse.

The school's alma mater was written that first year by talented 1962 graduate Gail Moser.

In the spring of '62, Mesa's baseball team captured the school's first CIF championship. At the time, Harbor, Mesa's long-established rival, had yet to win a varsity CIF title.

I had lots of wonderful teachers at Mesa. One of them saw something in me as a 17-year-old senior.

Mr. Don Miller, my English and journalism instructor, taught me the fundamentals of writing, a skill that propelled me through college and fueled my career. During my final semester on campus he cast me as a lead in the spring musical.

"You were an introvert," Miller told me three years ago when we met for the first time in 47 years. "But I loved your spirit, and you were willing to take risks."

Our original musical production, "An Extraordinary Guy," portrayed the trials and triumphs of high school life. Miller's creative writing class wrote the script, and he directed the show. Talented Mesa music students composed the score.

I could have played the lead character, Herman, without batting an eye. He was me: a socially awkward dork with no hope of attracting a girlfriend. Problem was, the character had to sing 10 songs, and I can't carry a tune.

So, Mr. Miller went against type. He cast me — the dorky introvert — as the second lead, George, an egotistical chick magnet. George had one solo that he could belt rather than sing. That worked for me, but how was I to transform myself into Joe Cool?

I learned to act!

The show was staged in OCC's auditorium in April of 1962. By popular demand, the run was extended for a second weekend.

The class of '62 graduated in June in OCC's football stadium. It proved to be a rousing end to an extraordinary beginning.

For reunion information, call (949) 837-2569.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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