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Duke of Earl a 38-year tradition at South Surrey high school

As Earl Marriott gears up to celebrate 50 years, student tradition revisited by past, current staff

Duke of Earl is not only a 1962 hit song by Gene Chandler.

It’s a nearly 40-year-old Earl Marriott Secondary tradition that keeps on giving, a multimedia stage production that marks the graduation of Grade 12 students each year before they embark on their post-secondary lives.

The EMS show, which features skits, video, songs and much more, is based on current events and those in the school community, and is so popular, it has sold out the past two years in a row.

In the lead-up to the South Surrey school’s big 50th anniversary event — a large reunion of sorts, with staff and students from the past 50 years invited to attend — the former EMS staff member who first initiated the Duke of Earl tradition took the time to remember how the whole thing started, 38 years ago.

Lorne Geary, who first started at Earl Marriott as a vice-principal in the 1980-81 school year, is pleased the annual show — started in 1986 — has continued for so long.

”I think that’s pretty fantastic. What a claim to fame!” he said.

“The fact that it’s still going, I think, is a testament to how exciting and fun it can be.”

The year before, Geary and (current Surrey school board trustee and White Rock representative) Laurae McNally were asked to judge a similar event at Lord Tweedsmuir called Mr. Tweedy, he said.

“I remember being a judge and sitting beside Laurae McNally — this is going back now — she actually had her own kids at Marriott, she was a Marriott supporter all the way,” said Geary, who retired in 2002. “The two of us laughed so much and had so much fun at this contest, we looked at each other and said, ‘We gotta do this at Marriott.’”

So the following year, in 1986, they started the Duke of Earl tradition.

READ MORE: Celebrating 50 years: Earl Marriott Secondary set to host big open house

Initially started as a ‘mock’ beauty pageant with male student athletes, based on the Mr. Tweedy format, the year-end show has transitioned into a production that includes video, skits and music, with the Grade 12 students doing all the writing, performing and technical work as well, such as sound and lighting.

“I can tell you my main objective, or aim, was school spirit … to have an evening of laughter and fun,” Geary said.

“And to think that’s happened all these years is just wonderful.”

Stephanie Canino, a former student-turned-EMS-staff-member, is now in charge of the Duke of Earl production, with a lot of help from other staff members (Miss Sahota and Miss Fraser) and, of course, the Grade 12 students.

“Basically in 1986 it started as a way to get the grads — specifically the rugby boys – a little bit more active in the school environment, school culture and school spirit. … It started as a parody of a beauty pageant. It has now morphed into a variety skit show, where it incorporates videos that the kids film and edit and make,” Canino explained.

“They do little skits where they pull things from pop culture and world events and relate them within the school community — the kids are playing the different teachers and the different administrators — and they they poke fun at things … they’re very entertaining skits.”

The winner of the Duke of Earl title receives a bouquet of carrots, a sash and bragging rights, Geary and Canino said.

“The bundle of carrots is instead of a bouquet of flowers. … I’m not 100 per cent sure (why),” Canino said with a laugh. “I think it was to make fun of the flowers but also, our school colours are green, white and orange, and carrots are orange and green.”

The crowd-pleasing show has sold out in recent years, with funds raised supporting dry grad.

“As a teacher, I love it, because it allows kids from all over the school — all of the different groups individuals who are into theatre, athletes, academics — those stereotypical areas that can often be separated. … It brings people together to put on a great show that is going to be funny without being mean-spirited,” said Canino. “It also gives them that chance to perform and take charge. It’s just something that I think makes them feel very accomplished — it is very empowering for the students involved.”

Earl Marriot had a “soft” start to its beginnings in the 1972-73 school year, dealing with shift hours and over-crowding at first, with the first Grade 12 students graduating in 1976.

The upcoming 50th anniversary alumni event, which is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. on Saturday, April 27 at the school (15751 16 Ave.) is expected to attract visitors from all over B.C., the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and even from the United States.

Geary and Canino, along with many others, are planning to attend.

“I’m looking forward to going back to the reunion,” said Geary.

For more information about the anniversary/open house event, visit the EMS website

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’ve worked as a journalist in community newspapers from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey.
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