The ultimatum: “If you don’t cut your hair to standard length established by the high school, we will not allow you to graduate with your class.”
Don’t ever tell a boy who lives by self-imposed, strict moral and ethical principles, the school administration has determined him out of compliance for having shoulder-length hair. It was 1961 and the latest music and fashion craze was in full swing.
The school rule disallowing long hair for boys had been broken. The principal and dean of boys said they had no choice. The hair had to be cut, or else.
The young man stood squarely on his principles. Even though he completed his coursework and was an excellent young scholar, even though he was recognized as an outstanding athlete, there was no alternative action after having been challenged by authority.
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Bob Santos’s rules were clearly at odds with the school; now he had to decide. Bob did not cut the hair, and his parents never had the pleasure to see their youngest child graduate with his class.
That is the story recently shared by my former classmate, a former high school friend I hadn’t seen in over 50 years. Over half a century had passed and Bob Santos was still aggrieved from the experience.
Perhaps he was born too early, since in 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a student. They determined, since the school’s policy treated boys differently from girls, it amounted to discrimination based on sex and was a violation of Title IX.
Bob indicated his most memorable high school experience as he departed at the end of the senior year, was one of humiliation. When I invited him and his wife to celebrate our 55th year since graduation, he said, “No. I do not believe we will be there. Since I was not allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies, I feel as though I am not part of the class.”
“Not the way I see it,” I said, “It was a minor skirmish with the principal. Of course, you are a member of the Class of 1961, and we want you both to come.”
Bob paused for a moment. “I recognize the responsibilities of a school principal; I did then and I do now. But, they could have dealt with it differently, especially since it was the end of the term. He was obviously wrong. If I agreed with him and cut my hair, I would have compromised my own integrity. It is a question of principle.”
He paused. “No. We won’t be attending the reunion. It is too late. But thanks for thinking of us.”
After Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, he served in the U.S. Navy, then attended California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock and later, University of Southern California. He became a bibliographer-library archivist and instructor at CSU Stanislaus. During the past 37 years, he also published and wrote hundreds of periodicals including a Historical Quarterly of California Regional History.
He researched and published a history concerning Portuguese immigrants who settled the west side of the San Joaquin Valley near Los Banos. Family and friends confirmed his love of playing the guitar and enjoying many styles of music. He wrote several songs and lyrics dedicated to his children and grandchildren. He was a man of principle with a deep faith which he shared with family and friends.
Incidentally, even in later years, he displayed an outcropping of thick, silvery hair that made this bald-headed old man green with envy.
On Feb. 13, 2017, Robert LeRoy Santos, passed away peacefully at the Stanford Medical Center. His dedication to principle, integrity and the right to be who you are, will long be remembered.
Larry Gamble is a founding member and former president and board member of the Business Organization of Old Town Clovis. He and his wife, Sylvia, moved to Clovis in 1963. The author of “Chasing Childhood Memories,” he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.