Fresno High’s Senate club celebrates 125th year

The first year Fresno High School’s Senate club held its inaugural meeting, Yosemite National Park had just been created, Wyoming was accepted as the 44th state and America’s presidents only numbered in the 20s.

The club, which has graduated thousands — lawyers, judges, congressmen — and transcended America’s history of tumult and breakthroughs, turned 125 this month.

It’s as healthy as ever. This year’s Senate is 37 members strong and consists of students from seniors to freshmen, each of whom represents a different U.S. state in Monday night meetings at Royce Hall, in what are rigid replications of the nation’s senatorial sessions. Show up wearing anything short of business attire, you get fined. Address other “senators” by their first name and not their title, and prepare to pony up.

“It’s a great honor to be a part of this distinguished club. It’s a wonderful legacy and a wonderful tradition,” said the Hon. Herbert Levy, one of about 200 of the Senate’s past and present who toasted the club’s anniversary Saturday night at a banquet at Pardini’s restaurant in northwest Fresno.

Levy, his grandfather, father, brother and cousins were all in the Senate during their time at Fresno High. A class of 1970 alumnus, Levy recalled the “lively times” in the Senate chamber — fiery debates about where America should stand in the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.

The same gravitational pull the Senate had on Levy is the same one that courts today’s bunch. Angela Romero, a Fresno High senior and the Senate’s president, joined in her freshman year at the suggestion of a friend. She was opinionated, and elementary school teachers said she should pursue a career in law, but she was also shy and introverted.

“The first day, I loved it,” the 18-year-old said. “I loved the idea of it. I loved how they were arguing. My first meeting they were arguing about one of our honorary’s (senator’s) shoes — her heels. How heels compared to other shoes. I just thought it was so fun, because you could have serious debates and funny debates about heels.”

And so the same way Levy and the class of 1970 talked about America’s state of racial tumult, so too have Romero and the club’s current incarnation debated Ferguson and the demilitarization of police, abortion — and yes, heels.

Prospective members must first attend four meetings and then give a speech before the rest of the Senate votes — depending on the strength of the speech — whether or not to accept said applicant into one of the school’s largest student clubs. Its minutes, handwritten in leather-bound notebooks, date to the club’s inception and are stored meticulously in the school’s library and in cabinets inside the Senate room.

“I had no idea it would last this long,” Malcolm Masten, class of 1937, said, chuckling as he looked across the packed room. “It’s hard to believe after all these years.”