HAYWARD -- Mildred Principe celebrated her 100th birthday a day early Wednesday by riding in a limousine to her alma mater, Hayward High, where she got out and slowly walked into the school she attended in 1927, as students and staff members holding balloons and signs clapped and cheered.
"This is incredible," the soft-spoken woman said at a reception in the school's library, where she was greeted by Hayward's string orchestra playing Vivaldi's Allegro in D.
Principe spent her freshman year at what was then called Hayward Union High School on Foothill Boulevard. The building was closed in 1962 when the school moved to East Avenue.
"At that time, Hayward was called the second most beautiful high school in the nation. It was terrible when they tore it down," she said.
The Iowa native attended Hayward High for only one year; her family moved to Lakeport, north of Napa County, but she later returned to Hayward, where she still lives. On Wednesday, Principe became the oldest member of the school's class of 2014 when district Superintendent Stan Dobbs presented her an honorary diploma.
"You're now a Farmer," he said, referring to the school's mascot.
Dobbs escorted her to a ribbon-cutting at the school's language arts wing, newly renamed the Mildred Principe Wing.
During a brief question-and-answer session, Principe was asked what her favorite subject in school. "Not algebra!" she exclaimed. "History, I think." She said that students wore uniforms in the 1920s, with white tops and black skirts for the girls, and bloomers for gym. Boys and girls were kept apart more than today, she noted.
And her favorite fun activity when she was a teenager? Principe paused, then said, "About all I ever did was go to church."
Her advice for students today: "Be good to each other. Love each other."
Principe wore bright red pants and a matching top; she said her favorite colors are red, white and blue. "I've been patriotic all my life," she said. "I've voted in every election since I turned 21."
She's an Obama fan, but Kennedy was her favorite president, Principe said. "Well, of course I liked him because of his good looks," she said. "It's a shame we never got to know what he might have done."
Wednesday's celebration was part of the district's Made in Hayward campaign to showcase students and alumni and instill pride in its young people. The schools have been asking people who attended Hayward schools to tell their stories.
"We want to show students that you have great opportunities for education in Hayward, that you can succeed if you attend Hayward schools," Dobbs said.
It's also important for students to make a connection between the past and future, he said.
Though she walked into the school using a walker, Principe sat during the reception. "I think I should have rested up more. I never expected all this," she said afterward. "I wonder if I thanked them enough."
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473, or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.
For more information about the Hayward school district seeking stories from its graduates, go to www.husd.k12.ca.us/madeinhayward, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-784-2600, ext. 72799.