“If it had not been for the faculty and staff of Booker T. in Overtown, I would not have been able to do the things I’m doing now.”
Miami Senior High, 1955; U.S. senator 1987-2005, Florida governor 1979-1987.
Lamar Louise Curry, a member of one of Key West’s founding families, taught all the Graham children at Miami High, a point she reiterated on the first day of class.
“She got to my name and said, ‘Robert, do you see this desk?’ and pointed to a desk to the side of the room. ‘That’s where your brother Phillip sat. He was a very good student. Robert, do you see this other desk? That’s where your sister Mary sat. She was a very good student. Finally, do you see this desk? That’s where your brother William sat and he was a very good student. I expect you to be a very good student.’
“That’s what she called leadership by intimidation,” Graham said. “That was my introduction, a wonderful, life-changing experience. She taught me a love of American history, taught me order and discipline and did most of her things in a Roman numeral outline context. If I’m doing a speech or writing an article I do a Roman numeral outline based on Mrs. Curry.’’
His only regret about his schooling, says Graham, 75, is that segregation was still in force.
“I graduated a year after Brown vs. the Board of Education and didn’t go to school with any African Americans. That was a big deficiency in Hialeah and Miami High to a wide range of young people.”
He recalled that his father, an engineer, came to South Florida in 1920 to run a sugar plantation and went on to start a dairy and cattle business.
“Many times I heard him say the best value he got in any one year were the taxes he paid to the Dade County school system because they gave his four children a great education — and I would agree.”
Miami Palmetto Senior High, 1977; Zoo Miami communications director.
Magill says he wasn’t voted “most likely to succeed” at Cutler Ridge Middle and Palmetto High in the 1970s.
On the contrary, because he was younger than his classmates (he’d skipped the fourth grade) and considerably taller, he was called Lurch or Magilla Gorilla.
“I had a tough time growing up,” he says. “I thought I’d never be able to do anything.”
But then Palmetto’s basketball coach asked him to try out for the team.
“I shuddered. I tripped and fell and didn’t even make it to the basket at tryouts.”
But the 6-foot-6-inch Magill made the team, and by his senior year was starting center on one of the top basketball teams in the district.
“That was a pivotal point in my entire life in getting confidence and doing something.”
The next game-changer was Magill’s biology teacher, the late Bill McCreary.
“I never made an A in this guy’s class but he’s the guy who, every day, he would tell me I was brilliant,’’ said Magill, 52. “I wasn’t brilliant but he made me believe I was. When you got a kid called Lurch and Frankenstein, to have a teacher tell you you’re brilliant, it just changed my life.”
North Miami Beach Senior High, 1988; author, screenwriter.