Corcoran Curator

Paul Grace finds his place as official historian at his alma mater

Twelve-year-old Paul Grace was stamping down the halls of newly opened Corcoran High School with his Boy Scout troop on the way to the swimming pool one Saturday night in the mid-1960s. Before he got to the water, though, the roar of the basketball game raging in the gym stopped him in his tracks.

“The place was absolutely packed and loud and raucous and everything else,” he said. “I snuck through the pool and down a hallway and into the gym and watched the basketball game. Something struck a chord with me that night and basically changed my life.”

Grace, 54, is the official historian at Corcoran and, unofficially, its biggest supporter. Since graduating in 1973, he has spent countless hours of his own time poring over old yearbooks, pulling out weeds and cheering on the teams. It’s a lot of time and energy spent, but he said it’s the least he can do.

“The people that teach at these city schools are remarkable people,” Grace said. “If they can do what they do, for me to donate a few hours a week is easy to do.”

Corcoran opened in February 1964, pulling together students from Onondaga Valley Academy (now Faith Heritage School) and Vocational High School (now Blodgett Middle School). More than 21,000 Corcoran Cougars have walked across the stage since the first graduating class of 1966.

The demographics at the school have changed dramatically since roll was first called in 1964, going from 85 percent white to about 80 percent black. That, Grace said, is one of the school’s strengths and something that has been important to him.

“I have benefited my whole life from having gone to a diverse high school,” he said. “Growing up, I became respectful of other people and their cultures and ways.”

On a cold night this past February, Grace sat in a computer lab at Corcoran, looking through a folder of old newspaper clippings and graduation programs. Except for the crowd attending a girl’s basketball game against Fayetteville-Manlius, the school was mostly empty. Grace greeted the janitors by name as they passed by, sweeping the floor.

“I’m not sure I could have had a better experience in high school,” he said, fingering an old Corcoran pennant. “I am one of the luckiest people you’ll ever meet in your life.”