When Marilynn Jensen Mortensen graduated from West Valley High School in 1942, boys from her class were going off to war and not coming back.
“We lost a lot of them,” said the 71-year-old grandmother.
“We had a big flag (in the school gymnasium) with stars for all the boys that were killed. It’s something we kind of expected.”
Years later, her son Jerry attended West Valley, where he met Becky Peterson at a mixer in 1969. Jerry and Becky married in 1974.
This year, Jerry and Becky Mortensen’s second child, Shannon, will graduate from West Valley. Their son, Adam, is slated to graduate in 1997.
Three generations of the family - including Jerry’s two brothers and their five children - have attended West Valley. Erica Mortensen, the last of the bunch, just finished her freshman year.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers would say, “‘Another Mortensen? Are you the last one?’ And you’d say, ‘No, there’s still more coming,” Shannon said with a laugh.
The third generation of Mortensens is the first to attend high school without fear of being drafted, although Marilynn said patriotism during World War II made boys in her class want to serve their country.
In stark contrast, Jerry and Becky graduated from WVHS in 1969 and 1970, respectively, while the Vietnam War was dragging on and sparking anti-war demonstrations across the country.
Schools have changed drastically since the elder Mortensens graduated.
The most sweeping change is computer technology. With a television in every room, computer labs and access to the Internet, students can easily tap into events around the world.
More classes are offered now, and there’s more emphasis on college and grades, said Becky Mortensen, who also has worked as a secretary at West Valley for the past four years.
In the past, school spirit revolved around sports. Football players were treated like heros, said Jerry, a stocky ex-tackle.
The same was true a generation earlier. “None of us girls wanted to take the coaches’ classes because the boys would just skim through and we had to really work,” Marilynn said.
Today, competition also extends into the classroom, with math team, science team, Odyssey of the Mind and other academic pursuits that offer thousands of dollars worth of scholarships as prizes. In fact, in April, a West Valley sophomore, Grace Williams, placed second in a national science competition.
When Becky went to school during the late ‘60s, the basic core curriculum included history, math, English and science. Today, advanced placement classes and creative electives put high school students on a fast track to college.
“I don’t think they had calculus when I was there,” Becky said.
Dress standards also have changed. When Marilynn was in school in the ‘40s, the girls wore dresses and skirts.
Today, Shannon said, “Girls come to school in boxer shorts and T-shirts.”
Despite the changes, West Valley’s small size and tight-knit community kept them all close to home. Many of the Mortensens’ close friends went to high school with them and still live in the district.
“It’s kind of nice knowing everybody you graduate with,” said Shelby Mortensen, 19, a 1993 West Valley graduate.
, DataTimes MEMO: (Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)
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