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Tracy High 100th graduation anniversary

Elizabeth O’Neill (left) and Viola Sehrt were Tracy’s first high school graduates in June 1915. 

The first two graduates of what became Tracy High School a century ago didn’t leave education behind after receiving their diplomas. They established teaching careers that continued for most of their lives.

Elizabeth O’Neill and Viola Serht received their diplomas on June 15, 1915, from what originally was West Side Union High School before it was renamed Tracy High in 1928.

Elizabeth was the daughter of a Southern Pacific conductor whose family came to Tracy in 1912. The oldest of four children, she had started high school in Fresno, earning her sophomore standing at Tracy’s new high school when classes started in September 1912.

In 1915, she became eligible for graduation and joined Viola Sehrt as the high school’s first graduates. Elizabeth was also class valedictorian.

Upon graduation, Elizabeth went to Fresno to earn a two-year elementary teaching credential from Fresno State Normal College (now California State University, Fresno).

She returned to a growing Tracy to teach for a year and married James Murphy, an SP conductor.

The Murphys lived in Visalia, Sacramento and Santa Rosa, where Elizabeth taught in elementary schools. They had no children. Elizabeth died in 1992 at the age of 95.

Her younger sister, Dorothy O’Neill McCrory, and family lived in Tracy for many years.

Viola Sehrt was a member of an early Tracy family. Her sister, Sadie, was married to P.E. Paulsen, who had lost an arm in a railroad accident and operated an insurance agency on West 10th Street.

After graduating from West Side High, Viola enrolled in San Francisco State Normal College (now SF State University) and earned an elementary teaching credential.

She returned to Tracy and began a long career of teaching fourth and sixth grades at Central and West Park schools. Viola, who remained single, was concluding 40 years of teaching in Tracy when, on Dec. 2, 1957, she died unexpectedly at the age of 62 — five months before she was scheduled to retire.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at

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