Warren Guy Sevin served in the U.S. Marines. He graduated from St. James High School in St. James Parish in 1950, a part of the first class in Louisiana to be required 12 years of education to graduate from high school. 

Imagine being a high school senior preparing for graduation and then being told you have to stay in school for another year.

It definitely would be a major disappointment with nothing to do with your grades but everything to do with a change in policy.

That's what happened in 1940s Louisiana. Students who would have ruled the school as seniors in 11th grade had to wait an extra year before graduating.

This was a story the late Warren Guy Sevin told his wife, Houma resident EdnaMarie Campbell Sevin. Warren Sevin was one of the graduates who had to wait.


The late Warren Guy Sevin and his wife EdnaMarie Campbell Sevin

"My deceased husband, Warren Guy Sevin, who died in 1992, told me he graduated from St. James High School in St. James Parish," she said. "Warren said he was in the first class in Louisiana to need 12 years to graduate with a diploma."

Her husband graduated in 1950, which was the first year the 12th grade was required for high school graduates in Louisiana, meaning, as far as we can tell, there was no class of 1949. 

For Sevin, 12 years of school was the norm. She graduated from high school in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1955.

"I thought everybody went to school 12 years," she said. "He died unexpectedly when he was 61 years old. I have so many unanswered questions that I wish I had asked him. I'm so glad y'all are going to answer this one."

This change was a state-level development that began earlier in the 1940s. Charlene Bonnette, head of the State Library of Louisiana's Louisiana Department, found a report about the change in the Louisiana Department of Education's 1950-51 annual report.

"It's a report about how the program is going," she said.

Bonnette also provided digital lists of the department's reports to the state legislature from 1857 to 1979. Though there is no mention of how the graduation change came about, the first reference to the changeover is made in the 1943-44 report.

"During the 1943-44 session, we have undertaken many projects, which have far-reaching significance in the state's educational program," the report said. "Among these are the preparation of plans for the inauguration of the 12-grade school program."

Meanwhile, the 1950-51 report the new 12-year program is glowing: "With the twelve-grade system on a statewide basis during the past three years for the first time in history of education in the state, a wonderful opportunity has been given to expand, improve, enrich and emphasize good instruction in all school subjects. The total program of education is being strengthened from the first through twelfth grades."    

Which may offer somewhat of an explanation — though not a clear answer — to Sevin's final question, "What was accomplished by adding another year?"

Did an extra school year mean students were learning more? Maybe that depends on stories told by individual graduates.

Curious Louisiana is a community-driven reporting project that connects readers to our newsrooms' resources to dig, research and find answers about the Pelican State. Bottom line: If you've got a question about something Louisiana-centric, ask us. 

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com