Senior Writing Contest: ‘The Sit In’


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It has been said many times before, but it was the best of times and the worst of times. It was a time of change, and not everyone was ready. I don’t think any generation that followed us had the moxy to try to edit society the way we did. Something was bound to come along to interrupt the relative calm of the post war era. Maybe we could blame it all on Elvis, or the Beatniks in the coffee shops, or the lads from Liverpool, when they aired on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Whatever started the revolution is probably not important. The times were about to change.

I was born in the early nineteen-fifties. I enjoyed a childhood straight out of a Norman Rockwell picture. My friends and I spent every possible moment outside playing. Our parents didn’t know where we were all day, and they didn’t seem to be worried about it. There was no fear that someone would snatch us. That would not be a concern for many years to come. It was still a time of innocence.

It wasn’t until the mid nineteen-sixties that things would begin to change. During the early sixties, we had witnessed The British Invasion, Surfer Music, and the birth of Motown. Around nineteen sixty-seven, America’s youth began a metamorphosis. The music became very psychedelic and young people were taking to the streets in protest of many different social issues. Young men were growing their hair long and young ladies were burning their bras. Unfortunately, many young people were starting to experiment with illegal substances. The “hippie” era had begun.

In nineteen sixty-nine I was a junior in high school. Up until that year, there had been strict rules regarding the student dress code. The boys were not allowed to grow their hair longer than their collar, and the hems of the girl’s skirts could not be above their knees. In fact, the skirts had to fall an inch below the knee, and if they looked shorter than that, a female teacher would get out a ruler, and make sure the skirt was the appropriate length.

The students at my high school were extremely unhappy with the dress code. The girls would try to get away with wearing skirts shorter than permitted, and the boys continued to come to school with longer hair than was allowed. The price these kids paid for their defiance was a call to their parents by the principal, or an afternoon detention. If they still disobeyed the rules, they might actually face a suspension from school. Since it was nineteen sixty-nine, we decided to do what young people all across the country were doing. We were going to protest the dress code.

I would like to point out that even though most of the kids in our school would have liked to see the dress code change, only a small group could be counted on to join our efforts. The “Jocks”, and the students deemed most popular, wouldn’t help us as they would be afraid to rock the boat with the administration. They were favored by the faculty and they wanted it to stay that way. The “Nerds” wouldn’t involve themselves, as they were too afraid of getting into trouble, or maybe involving themselves at all. So that left the “Freaks”. They were a group of students that were into the new music that was becoming popular, and they dressed and wore their hair like the Hippies in Haight Ashbury. They didn’t gravitate to sports, but joined the drama club instead. They became involved in social issues, such as human rights and stopping the war in Viet Nam. They had a certain distaste for anyone in an authoritarian position, particularly if those people were the rule makers. This was the perfect group for the job.

We went to work. We recruited as many of “The Freaks” as we could. After talking to the group, we had about twenty-five students that were ready and able. We were not surprised, as this was a time of revolution.

We decided to have a sit-in outside of the lunch room doors. We would do it everyday until the administration amended the dress code. If we only protested outside of the building, we wouldn’t interfere with classes, and if we were outside, we wouldn’t cause congestion in the cafeteria or the hallways. After all, we didn’t want to get into too much trouble, or get suspended or expelled. On September 15, 1969, we rolled up our sleeves, and prepared to go to work for our cause. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we were all hoping that we were about to do our part to change the world, or at least our part of the world.

We decided to start the protest during our lunch period on that first day. We would stay out there for the remainder of the afternoon, and everyday, until the administration gave in to us. We proceeded to move through the lunch line as we normally would. We selected our food and took our trays to the cafeteria doors. We formed a single file line and waited for our whole group to line up. By then, we had been noticed by other students and teachers. The gym teacher walked up to us and demanded to know what we were doing. We ignored him, and proceeded to go through the cafeteria doors. We then sat down on the concrete, in a line, with our backs against the brick wall of the outside of the cafeteria. We began to eat our lunch. Other classmates were hanging out of the cafeteria windows, trying to figure out what we were up to. One of the football players leaned out and poured a glass of water on one of the protesters’ heads. This resulted in hilarious laughter, and soon more water was poured out of the window. Finally, the principal walked through the cafeteria doors, and joined us outside.

“What in tarnation do you kids think you are doing out here?,” he shouted.

Our leader, a senior named Mike, handed him our carefully constructed list of demands. Mike looked the principal straight in the eye, and firmly said, “We want changes made to the current dress code. Everything is detailed in this list. Until our demands are met, we will sit right here during school hours. We won’t move until the last bell of the day rings.”

“I guess you’ll move when I call the police,” the principal said angrily, or maybe we will just start with a phone call to your parents.

“Look, what we are asking for is really no big deal,” Mike answered. “We want the girls to be able to wear pants. They feel like they could actually learn better not having to worry about whether or not they are sitting in a ladylike fashion, and they are sick and tired of the boys staring at their legs, and trying to look up their skirts. The boys don’t want to be told everyday that they need to get a haircut. We are here to learn and prepare for college. What difference does it make if our hair is long? When we do get to college, we will be able to wear our hair however we like.”

“This is not happening in my school. We will just see about this. I will not have my male students running around school with hair down to their waist,” the principal answered, as he stormed back into the school.

We all sat there with bated breath, as we waited to see what would happen next. We were expecting the police to roll up at any time, or at the very least, our parents to come take us home. But none of that happened. Except for the occasional curious student leaning out of the window to apprise the situation, no one else bothered us for the rest of the day. When the final bell rang, Mike told us we might as well go home. We didn’t go back into the school to get our books, we either got in our cars, or got on
the buses.

When I got home that afternoon, I was expecting my mother to read me the riot act. I was a little suspicious when I walked into the house, and she cheerfully greeted me with my usual after school snack.

Did you have a good day at school, sweetie?,” She asked as she pushed a plate of hot chocolate chip cookies toward me.

“Same old, same old,” I replied, as I shoved a cookie into my mouth. Could she really not know what went down at school today? I waited all afternoon and evening to be called downstairs to explain myself to my father, but it never happened.

We went back to school the next morning and took our positions outside the cafeteria. After discussing the matter with the other protesters, we found that none of our parents had been called. We sat out there all day, as we had the day before, and no one came out to bother us. Several of the football players taunted us from inside, but that was the gist of it. When the final bell rang that day, we packed up our belongings, and went home. Once again, I could tell my parents had no idea what we had been up to at school.

On the third day, about an hour after we took our positions with our backs against the wall, the principal made an appearance.

“Alright you rabble rousers, you win. Starting tomorrow, the dress code will be amended. The ladies can wear trousers. There will be no skin tight pants and definitely no shorts. Blouses will not be tight or see through. And all clothes will be clean and presentable. The gentlemen may have longer hair. Your hair will be clean, and if it gets too long, you will pull it back in one of those man ponytails or buns. Now you have all caused enough disruption. Get back to class, now!,” He barked.

We looked at each other in amazement, as we made our way back to class. As we walked down the halls on our way back, some of the other students came to the doorways of their classrooms, cheering and clapping. News of this nature spreads quickly in a high school.

We never really knew why the principal gave into our demands so easily. Years later, one of our classmates asked him at a class reunion. The principal said that they were talking about changing the dress code anyway. He said that schools all across the nation were getting complaints from students about the dress codes. Evidently, we were not the only protesters. He was planning on amending it anyway, but he thought he would give us our day of glory. I really didn’t care if this was the reason or not. I spent the last two years of high school sitting at my desk quite comfortably, in my bell bottom jeans.

This was Coni Evans’ winning essay for the 2024 Essex County Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest. She previously won an honorable mention in 2021.

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  1. Loved the essay. Though I was born at the end of 1959 I remember the time. It seems like such a little thing now days but it mattered and your protest was done peacefully

  2. I am so glad you enjoyed the story. I think the subject resonated with people because it brought them back to a more simple time in their lives. It seems that high schools across the country were dealing with strict dress codes back then, so readers identify.
    Thank you for your feedback.


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