Saying Goodbye to the Tombstone

On the first day of her spring history elective Activism and Resistance, history teacher Nancy Rawles made her objective clear: “We need to do something about the tombstone,” she said as our class nodded in unison. Two months later, while students were on spring break, members of Lakeside’s facilities department removed the tombstone. 

The Lakeside tombstone, formerly located just off the pathway from Red Square to Pigott, was the senior prank given to Lakeside from the class of 1971. Since the following school year would mark Lakeside’s first year of integration with the all-girls St. Nicholas School, the tombstone was to commemorate the original school’s last all-male class. 

At first, this tombstone seemed like an innocent joke, but as conversations on gender evolved at Lakeside and in the world around us, this innocent joke became a 700-pound reminder of a past that increasingly struck students as no longer relevant today. 

For these reasons, our Activism and Resistance class initiated the removal process of the tombstone. In the case it was unmovable, students suggested covering the tombstone up with tiles that had the names of the women from the first integrated class or names of non-male identifying Lakeside alumni, enclosing it in a stained glass box and placing a plaque next to it, or simply putting a bush over it. In the end, however, the class decided they wanted to turn the area into a commemorative social space that can continue to serve the community after the class is gone. Gathering community input over the next weeks, the class hopes to finalize actions that make all of Lakeside comfortable, not just by replacing the tombstone but by taking steps to create a welcoming environment for all students, regardless of gender. 

As conversations on gender evolved at Lakeside and in the world around us, this innocent joke became a 700-pound reminder of a past that increasingly struck students as no longer relevant today.

The current plan is to put up picnic benches and to plant daffodils, easy-maintenance flowers that symbolize rebirth and growth. The tombstone will be replaced with a plaque recognizing the first all-girls class as well as the tombstone’s history. The class understands that they are removing a piece of Lakeside history but believe this is a long-needed change and the right step for Lakeside to take.

Although conversations had been circling around the class of 2023 or a focus group deciding the fate of the tombstone, the current replacement process is primarily the work of the Activism and Resistance class. In the spring, they invited Dr. Bynum, Mr. Boccuzzi, and Mr. Dawkins to visit one of their classes so that they could explain to them the history of the tombstone, why they thought it should be removed, and their plan to transition the area into a communal space. They received approval from Dr. Bynum and Mr. Boccuzzi, who requested that the class write a formal statement to the board informing them of the change we were making. Although the administration played a supporting role within this process, it was up to the students of Activism and Resistance to take the lead. 

So what exactly is the class hoping for, moving forward? Recognizing that simply taking the stone out of the ground may not effect lasting change, the class is working on multiple projects: a video that explains the history of the tombstone and features interviews of students’ experiences surrounding gender, a discussion surrounding the tombstone and video that will take place in advisory, and a collaboration with the wellness team to change the format of how the sexuality and gender unit is taught. The class wants to center education on gender identities outside of the binary and sexism today, especially on Lakeside’s campus. 

The actual removal of the tombstone culminated after days of digging on April 11, when a tractor dragged the tombstone and its concrete base out of the lawn beside Bliss. The maintenance team did not find its purported time capsule nearby and plan to jackhammer the concrete apart, in the case the capsule may literally be sealed within.

As acknowledged in their statement to administration, “we, the students of Activism and Resistance, believe it is time for a due change: it is time to say goodbye to the tombstone.”