Grand Rapids — When people ask Misti Stanton where she went to high school, the Mercantile Bank executive is proud to tell them she’s a graduate of Central High School, Class of ’84. So is her brother, Sekou Smith, Class of ’90, a senior analyst for NBA TV. Their parents and three siblings were also GRPS grads, as were dozens of cousins and other relatives.
So they’re eagerly anticipating the release of an alumni directory listing tens of thousands of GRPS graduates, to be published in conjunction with the district’s 150th anniversary in 2021. The Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation is gathering names for the most exhaustive directory yet published of school system grads, living and deceased.
The directory will be a document that “links generations” and helps boost pride in GRPS, Smith said from his home in suburban Atlanta.
Calling All Grads
The Grand Rapids Public Schools alumni directory, due out in August 2021, will be available in both hardbound and digital editions. It will contain about 86,000 names and include contact information, college degrees and job/career status. It will list alumni alphabetically, by school and class year and by geographical area. Each edition will cost $119.98, plus shipping and tax, with GRPS sweatshirts and other merchandise also available.
For more information contact the Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation at email@example.com, or visit the foundation’s alumni page.
“I think the directory and the idea of it is really way overdue,” said Smith, who also writes for NBA.com and records the podcast NBA Hang Time. “I’m glad it’s being done, because it’ll connect people over the generations to areas of the city. It’s changed dramatically, but the Grand Rapids Public Schools is one of those binding elements in our community.”
“It’s just the connection, and being able to actually see who we are. That to me is powerful,” said Stanton, vice president and diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Mercantile Bank of Michigan. “When I think about it, I see us, I see GRPS.”
Postcards Prompt Fond Stories
Their enthusiasm is shared by leaders of the GRPS Foundation, on whose board Stanton sits. The foundation is coordinating the effort, which includes a Facebook page for GRPS grads that launched last spring, and will soon feature an interactive website where alumni can connect with each other and organize reunions.
The directory, planned for release in August in both hardbound and digital editions, draws on GRPS records dating back to 1894, about a generation after the district’s official founding in 1871. Compiled by Dallas-based Publishing Concepts Inc., it will contain about 86,000 names, said Willie Thomas, inside sales representative for PCI.
‘People are super-excited about it. They all have such unique stories and great memories of their days at GRPS.’– Sally Andreatta, Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation
The company has been sending out postcards to alums, asking them to call back with their information for the listing. Some recipients have called the GRPS Foundation to make sure it’s not a scam, said Sally Andreatta, foundation executive director. When they learn it’s legit, wonderful stories of their school days begin spilling out, she said.
“People are super-excited about it,” Andreatta said. “They all have such unique stories and great memories of their days at GRPS.”
Their excitement speaks to an unusually close-knit community of alumni who feel great loyalty to GRPS and stay connected with each other, she added.
“I was so encouraged that that community is still here, because we are unique,” said Andreatta, an East Grand Rapids native who spent 20 years in California before coming to the foundation in 2018. “I don’t think we’re like any other community in the United States. We really do care about each other.”
By providing one place where all grads can connect, she added, “The more we can publish that information and show that, I think it is better for our whole city.”
A ‘Diverse, Rich, Cultural Place’
Misti Stanton and Sekou Smith agree. GRPS runs deep in both their family history and their sense of community. They speak warmly of their days at Central High, now Innovation Central, where Stanton was homecoming queen and volleyball champion and Smith formed the foundations of his career in sports journalism.
Their siblings, Charmel, Eric and Ayanna, also are Central grads, as was their late mother, Estelle Mack. Their father, Walter Smith, graduated from the old South High. Their large extended family includes grads of all the city’s high schools, as do many friends.
“People say, ‘You know everybody,’” Stanton said with a laugh. “That’s because I went to school with them.”
The ties they formed in school stay with them, both say.
“Some of my best friends to this day are Central grads,” Smith said. “It is the most diverse, rich, cultural place you can grow up.”
That richness will be deepened when people connect through the directory and the district’s sesquicentennial, they said.
“That was the beauty of our community, the beauty of GRPS,” Stanton said. “That’s what shaped the people we are today.”
The beauty of Central High came over her when she met a photographer there for this story. Gazing up at its historic façade, she shook her head wistfully.
“So many memories,” she said.