OAKLAND -- Dr. Joyce Boykin was born in Oakland, raised in Berkeley and was the first African American student to attend the Anna Head School for Girls, now known as Head-Royce.
"My mother said she'd seen a notice about admission to Anna Head placed in the UC Berkeley alumni magazine," said Boykin, who attended the school from first through 12th grade and graduated in the class of 1968. "Although my parents were not educators, they saw the big picture and knew that a good education would be essential for one to succeed in life."
Boykin went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California and a master's in public health from UCLA. After receiving her doctorate from Tufts Medical School in Boston, she returned to Southern California -- "which I love" -- and practiced as a general internist for 30 years until her retirement. She still lives there with her daughter, Lauren, and grandson, Dominik.
Boykin said her experience at Anna Head was generally good. As kids do, she remembers the small things, like the 10:30 a.m. snack period, which Boykin thinks was pretty innovative for the time.
"The bell would ring, and all the students from upper and lower classes would gather 'round the table for snack -- usually cookies and apple juice."
On the other hand, she recalled that some students were "racially intolerant."
"At times, it did not feel inclusive due to my race," Boykin said. "Occasionally, I would be told by a classmate, 'Sorry, I can't invite you to my birthday party because my mother does not want any colored people in the house.' I guess this did not apply to their maids."
However, she recalls, not all the families were intolerant and she was invited to other classmates' birthday parties and sleepovers.
"One of my classmates had an extra ticket to see the Beatles and invited me to go," Boykin said.
To be transitioning between white and African American cultures was a unique experience, Boykin recalled. During the week, she was attending an all-white girls' school, yet she would often visit her godmother in an all-black, working-class neighborhood in West Oakland, where she also attended church.
"I was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Oakland," Boykin said. "I remember the officers in the church were all held in high esteem. However, during the week I would see some of them waiting for the bus to go to work in homes as maids ... in some cases as maids in the homes of my schoolmates.
"That was always a heartfelt reality."
When Boykin was in third grade, the second African American student was admitted to the school.
"Then each year after that, more African Americans enrolled in Anna Head."
Boykin said it's great that, today, Head-Royce promotes racial and socioeconomic diversity. She said the makeup of the school was different in her day.
"My impression was that more than 95 percent of the students came from financially well-to-do families," Boykin said.
She remembered sitting on the steps waiting for her daily cab ride home from school when parents or upper-grade students sometimes asked her, "What do your parents do?"
"Most likely they were wondering how this little 'colored' girl was able to attend the same school as their daughters," Boykin said.
In fact, both her parents worked for the federal government, her father with the Veterans Administration and her mother with the U.S. Post Office. She said that one thing that was always clear to her was the importance the school placed on education.
"Excellence in education has not changed," said Boykin, who was recently invited back to the school to film "sound bites" for the 125th anniversary celebrations.
"It is so exciting to see the structural expansion, the growth of the student body, as well as an evolving curriculum to prepare the students for the future."
Boykin said graduating from Anna Head School definitely enhanced the opportunities she had in her life.
"I felt that the same opportunities available to anyone else were also available to me," she said. "Due to the exposure to languages -- we took French from grades one to seven, no opting out -- I became interested in languages and took German in college and also spent a summer in Germany."
She also studied Arabic. Boykin has fond memories of her senior year activities and graduation.
"For senior day off, we took a bus ride for a day at the beach in Santa Cruz.
"Five of us who started out together as first-graders also graduated as seniors. We wore long white dresses and held yellow bouquets. That evening we had our senior prom -- what a way to celebrate graduation."