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‘Mastbaum taught me that everyone has their own struggle and we all went to school to escape it.’

William Griffin and his wife, Kay Griffin, with their newborn William Griffin IV, outside of Jules E. Mastbaum High School in Kensington. (Photo by Solmaira Valerio)

My name is William O. Griffin III, and I grew up in West Philly’s Overbrook section. My parents are also from West Philly; however, my father went to Hershey High School, so he somewhat grew up in the countryside of Pennsylvania. I am currently living in Delaware County with my wife and our baby boy, William Griffin IV. 

I chose Jules E. Mastbaum as my high school to escape my neighborhood high school. It was something about “testing” into a school that gave me a sense of pride. It being a trade school made it more exciting. As a 27-year-old, I would tell you that going to school in Kensington wasn’t that bad, but the 16-year-old kid from West Philly would tell you it was a complete culture shock. I have two vivid memories from my time in high school. The first memory was seeing a dope needle on the ground as I exited the El platform to walk down Allegheny Avenue. The second memory I have is when Ms. Dean, my principal, sat us in the auditorium and said, “Look to your left, look to your right. The student next to you will not be there when you reach graduation.” These moments shaped the way I viewed high school.  

Kensington and Mastbaum taught me a lot. I separate the two because they were two different experiences. Mastbaum taught me that everyone has their own struggle, and we all went to school to escape it, if for at least eight hours out of the day. Kensington taught me to keep my personal life and school life separate. I had new experiences at Mastbaum too. I don’t think I would have ever tried a pastelillo if it wasn’t for my friends at Mastbaum. I also learned a trade at school. I traveled further than I ever have on the El from 69th Street to Allegheny, and I learned about different cultures and different neighborhoods in Philly. I can truly say that I didn’t miss out on anything because I attended Mastbaum. Besides getting home later than others due to the travel time.  

However, something that sucked was having a teacher one year, and then after a while, they would leave and go teach in the suburbs. So that was somewhat of a letdown because, as a student you don’t understand the reason behind it besides them simply leaving. We just learned to adjust and tried to stay focused. As I progressed through the grades, I also started to notice certain teachers taught their classes slightly differently than others. 

Math teachers like Ms. Bentent began to prepare us for the real world while teaching the course. She also took time to throw in life lessons when it came to finance, the importance of character, and how you represent yourself on paper. My carpentry teacher, Mr. Wizz, shed light on a union career and bridged students to the DC21 program, a co-op apprenticeship that allowed students to attend the training center of the finishing trades (painters, drywall, and glazers). We saw first-hand what the union has to offer and the type of training you’ll receive while in the union. To top it all off, the DC21 program also certified us in OSHA 10. This was to help students start a career fresh out of high school. 

Kensington is a rough place to live or go to school in. There were many challenges throughout the years. I believe my most challenging moment was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my time after high school. Not having a concrete plan was hard, however, having a supportive family and mentors helped me overcome those challenges. I attempted college and worked multiple jobs. Knowing I had a trade under my belt inspired me to look into a career with a union. I’ve attempted carpentry, glazing, and electrical work. I made a name for myself while working seasonal positions on construction sites. I reached back out to Mr. Wizz, and I eventually applied for Local 19 (Sheet Metal) Union and became committed. Now, I own multiple rental properties, have a great career, and have great health benefits. I am very proud of myself. But I think I’m most proud of the family I’ve created. My wife and I have been married for four years, and we just had our first child on April 20th. I couldn’t be happier. 

I look back on my high school days, and I can truly say that Mastbaum played a part in me becoming the person I am today. Some would say I was already the person I am today before Mastbaum, but I think not. As I said before, I had no idea what Kensington, Mastbaum, or carpentry was before I attended high school. I’m glad I was naive because it allowed me to experience it all without a preconceived notion.

Editors: Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese

What did you think about this story? Send a note to editors@kensingtonvoice.com, and we’ll consider publishing it in our Voices section. You can also tell us what you think in person at our neighborhood events.

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