It seems a marvel that Louis Kokonis has been teaching in Alexandria’s school system for 60 years. His arrival at Francis C. Hammond High School in 1959 predates the school system’s current moniker of ACPS, or Alexandria City Public Schools.
At the time of Kokonis’ arrival, Hammond, along with George Washington High School, were white-only schools, while Alexandria’s black students were segregated into the Parker-Gray High School.
It was during the math teacher’s first year of teaching in Alexandria that James Lomax, his sister Margaret and seven other students integrated city elementary schools in February 1959. (See “The homeless man who made civil rights history,” in the May 3 Alexandria Times.) The consolidation of Hammond, G.W. and Parker-Gray into the new T.C. Williams High School was still six years away.
For context, when the then 26-year-old wrote his first equations on an Alexandria chalkboard, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was President, Alaska and Hawaii had just become states, the original Washington Senators had not yet moved to Minnesota and the Washington Capitals were 15 years from being formed as a hockey expansion team.
How do 60 years, so long in some ways and so short in others, pass by almost unnoticed?
“I went from year to year and then suddenly it was just 60. I never thought about retiring. It never came to mind, so I just kept going,” Kokonis said.
ACPS leaders have rightly made a fuss over Kokonis reaching the 60-year milestone. An event was held on Jan. 11 at T.C. Williams to celebrate the venerable teacher, to raise money for the Louis Kokonis Teaching Legend Scholarship – through the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria – and to acknowledge the hundreds of students who have passed through his classroom over the years. For a full account of the festivities, see “T.C. teacher celebrates 60 years” on page one of this week’s Alexandria Times.
While he has earned every accolade, Kokonis, who is now 86, also appears to prefer being out of the limelight and left alone to do what he knows best: teaching Alexandria students. Kokonis said of the sudden spot- light, “In a sense, it’s stressful.”
Kokonis’ achievement is inspiring and is an example to us all. What a gift for a person to find something they love and are good at, and to devote their life to that endeavor. And several generations of Alexandria students are better educated because of Kokonis’ dedication.
In getting up every day and going in to work long hours at his job teaching math to Alexandria students, Kokonis has lived the old adage: The days are long, but the years are short.