The crowd in Cupertino High's gymnasium roared louder and louder, to an almost deafening level. The thunderous roar was not for a game-winning basket or a team victory; it was for a beloved teacher.
Students, colleagues, former wrestling students and friends came together Jan. 25 to surprise and honor longtime history teacher Jay Lawson on his recent retirement. The early morning rally saw folks at a packed 'Tino gymnasium heap praise on Lawson in the form of songs, chants, shared memories and tributes.
The gym was decorated in Lawson-themed posters with clever plays on words such as "Lawson Made History."
"It was simply amazing," Lawson said. "I definitely felt the love, even from students that I didn't have in class. The energy in the gym that day was pure therapy. 'Tino is a very special place."
A few students and wrestlers took time to share their thoughts about their former teacher. One student said she cared more about doing well on an exam to please Mr. Lawson than getting a good grade.
In preparation for Lawson's arrival, the students broke out into chants of "We want Lawson!" A marching band rendition of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2" saw a few students replace the signature "hey" in the chorus with "Jay."
The school band performed a medley of Beatles songs, and some students came prepared with American flags, Uncle Sam hats and luchador masks in reference to Lawson's teaching and coaching careers. Just about every student had a colored rally card with a simple "J."
Lawson's retirement came earlier than expected. He was diagnosed over the summer with multiple sclerosis.
"In October, the demands of my job were too much," he said. "I went to part time and thankfully finished my career with a bang. It would have never happened if I didn't have the support of our administration, my teaching colleagues and of course, the fabulous students from 'Tino."
Lawson retired Dec. 21 after a nearly 37-year career in education. His wife, Pat, a teacher at Fremont High, is retiring in June as well.
Lawson's career started at Homestead as a wrestling coach. He then taught history at Monta Vista in 1976.
Lawson got his start at Cupertino High in January 1986 as a special education teacher and as the head wrestling coach. He switched to history in 1999 and also served as the adviser of the Leo Club.
He served 28 years as a wrestling head coach and also volunteers coaching time at Lawson Middle School.
The name Lawson is synonymous with education and wrestling in Cupertino. The middle school is named for longtime educator Sam Lawson, Jay's father. Sam was inducted into the California Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011 for his efforts in growing the sport.
Sam was Cupertino's first male teacher, first sports coach and first physical education instructor. Jay's mother, Marilyn Elaine Lawson, spent 20 years teaching the fifth and sixth grade in what is now the Cupertino Union School District, primarily at Meyerholtz Elementary in the 1960s and 1970s.
Jay Lawson says he will miss seeing the students and his colleagues and telling his students stories in history class. He also plans to meet with former students and colleagues in the near future to discuss solutions to world problems, a plan he says he is quite serious about.
Lawson was inducted into the school hall of fame at the rally's conclusion. As the rally ended, he shared a few words with those assembled.
"I had an opportunity to work at the greatest school in the world," he told the students. "I love all of you. This experience is something I will live with for the rest of my life. I will not stay away from this place."