High school

50 Years Later: East LA Walkouts Highlight Power of Student Activism

In 1968, the graduation rate at Garfield High School was 43 percent. Now it's 96 percent.

Students at Garfield High School chanted "Yes, we can" Thursday as they listened to those who took part in the 1968 East LA student walkouts.

"The South was in the process of being desegregated and we began to ask, what about us, what about here, what about now?" John Ortiz said.

Ortiz was one of more than 20,000 Chicano students from multiple schools in Los Angeles to protest overcrowded classrooms, inexperienced teachers and a lack of college prep classes.

Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the first of several days in which students walked out. 

"If some of the kids got into trouble and sent to detention, part of the detention was to become janitors," Carmen Aceves, a Garfield High School graduate, said.

Their demands for a quality education drew the support of then Senator Robert Kennedy who met with some of the student organizers.

The walkouts did lead to change within the Los Angeles Unified School Disctrict. In 1968, the graduation rate at Garfield was 43 percent. Now, it's 96 percent.

"In a way I feel really grateful for what I have today because of what happened a few years ago. It's crazy what they were doing," student Carlos Alavez said.

"I thought that was inspiring to see how much determination we as young people can have if we believe in something," student Jessica Fimbres said.

It's the same determination students in Parkland, Florida displayed as they pushed for change in light of the high school shooting in their community.

"Students are the ones who make change," Garfield High School graduate Joe Vasquez said.

Several events honoring the anniversary were planned, including a "walk in" by thousands of LAUSD students Friday morning at Cal State LA.

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