R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem celebrated its 100th birthday this week. 

Several former faculty and students gathered in the media center to celebrate the milestone Wednesday night. 

The crowd sang “Amid the Pines,” the school’s alma mater. The fact that it had been 40, 50, or 60 years since the people singing had attended the school didn’t seem to matter.

They knew all of the words to the song, and they recognized their former classmates, even beneath their masks. 

Roby Walls attended the celebration with his daughter, Connie Merritt. Walls was a teacher in the social studies department for 31 years, starting in 1971. His reason for working at the school for more than three decades is simple. 

“Because it's the best school in the whole wide world,” Walls said.

His daughter, Merritt, graduated class of ‘84 and went on to be the school’s band director ten years later. She said it had been a while since she’d been inside the building. 

“It just feels really special to be here,” she said. “It's palpable. You can feel the history here when you walk in on campus.”

North Carolina Artist Nick Bragg worked to capture that history in a 10-foot mural that was unveiled later that evening. It’s a colorful, almost kaleidoscope of illustrations representing significant pieces of Reynolds’ and the world’s history. It’s titled “Silver Hill to Diversity.” 

New mural at R.J. Reynolds High School

North Carolina artist Nick Bragg created a 10-foot mural commemorating 100 years of R.J. Reynolds High School. The painting was unveiled on Jan. 18, 2023 at a celebration of the school. AMY DIAZ/WFDD

Principal Calvin Freeman told attendees that the school might look different these days. He explained that the student body is 38% white, 35% Black, 18% Hispanic, 5% multiracial, and representative of more than 24 countries. 

“We’re a very diverse school. We are proud of that diversity,” Freeman said. “We uplift that diversity, and we try to work through that diversity, again, making Reynolds the place where everyone wants to be.”

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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