Cagle, a retired purchasing agent at Lockheed, remembers the evening fondly. “Like any other senior, I was just excited to be graduating, and we were all excited to be graduating at night,” she said. Boys in blue gowns and girls in white marched across the field and settled in bleachers set up for the students in the middle of the field, while parents watched from the stands, Cagle said.
Cagle proudly recalls the theme of her graduating class was “that we may glorify our God, and live to serve mankind.” Her favorite moment of the evening was watching her best friend, Betty Ann Jackson Vaughn, deliver the valedictorian speech.
The highlight of Cagle’s four years at Marietta High was her participation in girl’s basketball, for which she earned herself a place in the school’s athletic hall of fame. At the time, Cagle said, basketball was the only sport girls were allowed to play. Cagle recalls winning the basketball state championship when she was a junior in 1951, a title no Marietta High School girls basketball team has won since.
Leigh Colburn, principal at Marietta High, graduated from the school she now leads in 1983, but missed experiencing commencement in Northcutt stadium. Graduations are moved to the gymnasium if stormy weather rolls in, she explained, so not every ceremony in the past six decades has taken place in the stadium. However, Northcutt has hosted commencement for the past 17 years straight.
While Cagle’s was one of many graduation ceremonies to take place on a Friday night, Colburn says practical concerns have pushed the ceremony to Saturday mornings in recent years. According to Colburn, the prevalence of summer evening thunderstorms often forced the school to move commencement indoors. She said a string of car accidents involving students also inspired the time change.
“After graduation, kids were getting in their cars and driving to Florida,” Colburn explained. “We had some bad accidents.”
This year, 396 students will graduate in Northcutt Stadium — nearly three times the number from Cagle’s class. The class of 2013 saw 352 seniors receive a diploma. Colburn attributes this growth to the expanded resources afforded to today’s seniors, including tutors, graduation coaches and increased communications between teachers, parents and struggling students.
Most of all, Colburn says, the school’s Performance Learning Center, an off-campus facility, has provided students opportunities to accelerate their coursework or receive extra help with tougher subjects. On Saturday, 50 of this year’s graduates will come from the PLC.
Northcutt’s inaugural commencement was certainly not the last Cagle attended. Between 1942 and 1981, 14 members of Cagle’s family have graduated from Marietta High, from siblings to nieces and nephews. Cagle cheered for all of them from Northcutt’s stands as they received their diplomas.
The stadium first opened its doors in 1940 after a construction process that cost $25,000 — or about $400,000 in today’s dollars. When the school itself moved to a new location a decade ago, the board decided against building a stadium on the new campus, choosing instead to continue use of Northcutt even though it sits behind what is now Marietta Middle School.
After football season winds down this fall, renovations estimated at $10 million will begin on the stadium. Colburn said the changes will include widening the field and bringing seating up to modern-day capacity. Additional improvements include adding rows of aluminum seats to the home side and building a two-story press box.
Cagle is happy the board opted to leave the old stadium intact. She expressed appreciation for the renovations that the school is planning to make — and for the ones they aren’t.
“I think it’s great, as long as they don’t do anything to the wall around Northcutt Stadium,” she said.
The faded stone wall that wraps around Northcutt is as much a Marietta icon as the stadium itself, and it will remain untouched during the upcoming months of construction.
“If they’d said they were going to do anything to the wall, you’d have had a big protest.”