Franklin High School is celebrating its 100th birthday with a year of events that began with a special assembly on Friday and will include a multicultural celebration and a special commencement ceremony the school hopes will attract U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, a Franklin alum.

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With official proclamations, break dancing and a star-studded list of surprise guests, it was equal parts pep rally and hip-hop concert at a unique birthday party for the city’s oldest operating high school.

A special assembly Friday kicked off a year of events that will celebrate Franklin High School’s 100th year. The festivities include a multicultural celebration in December, a January bash for Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and a special commencement ceremony the school hopes will attract former governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, a Franklin alum.

“This is very special,” said retired assistant principal Patricia Newton, explaining the reason for the extravagance. “Especially in this culture that doesn’t exactly have a great attention span, for a school to be around for 100 years is very special.”

Or as former National Football League running back Corey Dillon said in an interview after the assembly, “One hundred years. Come on man. That don’t come along often.”

Dillon was among a half-dozen famous athletes who began their careers at Franklin and returned Friday for the centennial party. The athletes, including former NFL players Terry Metcalf and Mario Bailey — Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry canceled at the last minute — individually entered the gym to hip-hop music before offering a piece of advice or a memory from their high-school days.

They were introduced by alumnus Terrence Proctor, a local celebrity in his own right for his job as a pastor and side job announcing at sporting events.

“Who’s in the house? Who’s in the house?” Proctor wondered aloud as he entered the gym, prompting hundreds of green-and-black-clad students to yell “Franklin’s in the house, you know.”

Despite the fact that the students have only spent a few years — or months — at the school, they’re still proud, senior Deare Tackett said. “This is our school. It’s cool. It’s exciting.”

The pride comes from a sense of community, which the school emphasizes is due in part to its diversity, Principal Jennifer Wiley said. Seven percent of the school’s 1,425 students are white, and some 70 percent are living at or below the poverty line (“in money but certainty not in spirit,” Wiley is quick to clarify).

Community hasn’t always come easy at Franklin. The school has at times been a center of racial tension. That tension triggered the first ever sit-in in Seattle, where among the arrested was Larry Gossett.

Gossett, now chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, returned Friday to present a proclamation declaring it “Franklin High School Centennial Day.”

He noted how lucky the school is to be in its original building. In 1986, the Seattle School Board voted to demolish the then-deteriorating building and replace it. But the Landmarks Preservation Board stepped in and got the building named a historical landmark and renovated.

And so it remains, a distinct landmark for Rainier Valley and Seattle itself. In many ways, the school is the same as when Robert Newsum attended, the 73-year-old said, speaking as waves of students one-fifth his age rushed past him out of the gymnasium.

The big difference is, of course, the gym. Newsum said Franklin built a new gym a year or two after he graduated, in the late 1950s. It finally got a new one … this year.

Newsum said Friday he had only one wish for his alma mater’s 100th birthday: “I hope they can win the game tonight.”

He got his wish, as the Quakers beat Ingraham High School 21-12.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or