The Falls Church News-Press has partnered with George Mason High School’s award-winning newspaper, The Lasso, to bring its readers some of the top articles appearing in the student-run digital paper. This regular feature will appear monthly in the News-Press during the school year. The Lasso can be found online at www.fcpps.org/lasso.
Trampling On Tradition
By Daniel Donovan
Every summer, the juniors/seniors of the Mustang Ambassadors club at George Mason host an orientation for the incoming freshmen class of students to welcome them, give a tour of the school, and answer any questions they might have.
I don’t remember much from my tour, over five years ago now; in fact I only remember one thing: “Don’t step on it.” Four short words my Mustang Ambassador, Ben Tran, told my group on that summer morning.
The “it” Tran was referring to is the marble mosaic of a Mustang, embedded in the hallway floor outside the library and front office. This area is where the three main hallways of the school intersect, and hundreds of students walk through this portion of the school in between classes every day.
As was once a tradition, and still is as far as I’m concerned, students are never supposed to step on this mosaic. Stepping on the mustang was supposed to mean that GM student might not graduate, or at the least bring them bad luck.
I tried to track down the origin of this superstition, so I immediately went to Mrs. Dorothy Clinton, a 1975 graduate of GMHS and the current secretary to the assistant principals in the front office.
“Oh yes of course!” she replied when I asked her if she knew about it. “When I went to school here, it was like gold. No one would dream of stepping on it.”
This confirmed that the superstition has been alive for at least 44 years. I knew that it has lost importance, but how much?
I asked the youngest (and shortest) freshman in my sight, Carlos Mercado, if he knew about the mosaic or the superstition: “Uhhhh sure…” he replied. Mercado is only one student in the freshman class, but I think his response gives a pretty good idea of how important – or unimportant – this is to students at Mason in 2015.
I conducted a survey of over 150 students of all grade levels throughout the week, and the results were (unfortunately) not surprising: 65 percent of students answered that they knew about the tradition, yet only 22 percent said they will avoid stepping on it when they walk through the hallway.
We know it was important 40 years ago, and we know it has lost a great deal of that importance now. But when was it lost in translation? And why?
I was also curious about what recent alumni thought of the tradition.
“I definitely avoided it purposefully my first few years,” said Genevieve Jordan, a 2012 graduate. “Though I think as I got older, if I was in a rush, I wasn’t paying much attention.”
Rand Walter, a 2013 graduate, had a similar perspective: “I don’t think I ever took extra precautions to walk around it, but if someone reminded me not to step on it then I usually didn’t. I don’t think it was a big deal for most people.”
Honestly, it’s impossible to find precisely when the tradition lost its meaning, and more likely than not it was a gradual transition over time. But I’m graduating this year, and this tradition seems to be tiptoeing the border of extinction. I have gone out of my way to never step on it in my five years, why?
Not because a senior made my mind race about thoughts of what could happen to me as an eighth grader if I did. Or because I actually think I won’t graduate if I do (I have a serious case of senioritis to threaten that). No, to me it’s because of what that 2 by 2 marble mosaic means, what it represents.
Is the literal tradition of not stepping on a marble mosaic on the floor kind of stupid? Sure it is. But aren’t all traditions/superstitions stupid? I sat in my lucky spot on the couch for every Redskins’ game this year and they still went 4-12.
This mosaic represents school and community pride, a connection to alumni that goes back over 40 years, and a cliche high school tradition that is unique to students of George Mason High School.
All high schools have these special traditions, but this mosaic is really the only one we have. And if it’s important to graduates from 40 years ago, I feel that it should be important to students now.
When I took my freshmen on their tour this past August as a Mustang Ambassador, I made sure to stop outside the library and tell the story of the mosaic. My hope is that they will pass it on and the tradition will eventually come back to Mason.
Who knows, maybe they don’t pay any attention to it right now and walk on it every day to class. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as they find something unique to Mason that matters, and they can take with them after they leave the place where we all spend so much of our teenage lives..
The Conductor of George Mason High School
By Melissa Johnson
Within George Mason High School, there is a large, supportive staff (beyond the teachers), that take care of all the logistics in making any school day flow like a well oiled machine. If there is one staff member who pulls the strings behind the curtains every day to make GM that much better, it is easily Admin Assistant Mrs. Debbie Flanigan.
So I sat down with Flanigan, and got to know a little more about this extraordinary staff member at George Mason High School.
When I walked into the interview, I immediately realized just how busy Flanigan is: I saw right off the bat that she was hard at work reading a long Excel spreadsheet. Looked confusing to me. As soon as she saw me, Flanigan greeted me with a warm smile, wearing a grey sweater with blue and black lining throughout and black slacks. Before I knew it, Flanigan ran off to grab me a chair before the interview started.
As we settled into the rhythm of conversation, I learned a great deal of how long Flanigan has been a part of the GM staff. This year will be Flanigan’s 20th year. Let me put that into perspective: that means that Flanigan has been able to see five sets of GM classes graduate.
Flanigan has also worked as the principal’s secretary her entire career here at GM, and has worked with three principals thus far.
If you don’t already know Flanigan, she is one of those people who work tirelessly behind the scenes. Unlike, most of the staff members at GM, Flanigan is contracted as an employee all 12 months of the year. The months of September through June may be typical for students and teachers to be the busiest months, but for Flanigan all 12 months are busy. While students are relaxing at the beach all summer, Flanigan along with a select number of staff members are here all summer getting ready for the next school year. So yes, the schedules, the red folders, and all those documents distributed at the beginning of each school year are organized during the summer months.
Typically during the school year, Flanigan’s days are kept busy with multiple tasks. From helping other administrators get their jobs done, to answering phones, and also keeping up with Principal Byrd’s schedule… it is a busy job to say the least.
“[My daily tasks] are basically based on where we are in the semester, and the different things that come up, regardless of who is principal or secretary,” said Flanigan.
Flanigan’s day is no walk in the park and getting to GM to start her day is no easy drive. Flanigan daily includes a 64-mile commute, constituting about 90 minutes each way, to and from GM. I have to say, when I complain that my 10-minute drive on Broad Street is treacherous, after hearing Flanigan, next time I will be a little more thankful.
“It is a long commute, but it is a great way to wind down after the day, and I really like what I do,” said Flanigan. “I love the people I work with and it’s a good place to be, and a lot of people can’t say that about their job.”
During our interview, I was reminded again just how important Flanigan is, even for the small things: Midway through the interview Principal Byrd popped his head into the door asking Flanigan a question. She juggled the two tasks seamlessly.
After the interruption, continuing through the interview, I realized how much love Flanigan has for her job, and the joys that she finds throughout the year.
“I look forward to the beginning, I like the enthusiasm that students bring into the building on the first day of school, it’s a lot of work getting it ready… then I love graduation, because it is then the end of something that took a lot of work to put together,” said Flanigan. “I like everything about a school system, and it keeps you young!”
Being a junior at GM and being here for three and a half years, I hear all the time Principal Byrd, stating that Flanigan is the “real principal of GM” and his boss. I wanted to know what Flanigan’s reaction was to that, and I have to say how humbling she is.
“I have to say that every time he says that I just say I am his secretary and that I just sit next to him, because that’s what I am,” Flanigan says with a laugh. “It’s his building, it’s his school, and I am just fortunate enough to be part of it, and even though I just sit in the office next to his, but it really is sweet of him to say that.”
As the interview started to wind down, Principal Byrd opened up the door connecting his and Flanigan’s office, and I got a chance to ask Principal Byrd, what he thought of Flanigan, and he wasn’t hesitant in his response at all.
“She’s my everything. I’m telling you, I am not kidding when I introduce her to people as my boss,” said Byrd. “She runs this building and there are few and certain people in every establishment and if they were gone there would be a ripple effect upon everyone and it would get down to every kid in this building if Ms. Flanigan wasn’t here for a couple of days.”
After finishing the interview, Flanigan gave me a hug at the end, and I have to say it is one of the few interviews that I have ever come out of with such a happy and warm feeling. It was such an honor to be able to recognize an incredible person within our GM community.
These articles plus more from The Lasso available at www.fcpps.org/lasso.