With high school graduations in the area now complete, we turn our attention to reunions.
This summer, graduates of local high schools, including John Marshall, Mayo and Lourdes in Rochester, will mark 50 years since they received their diplomas as members of the class of 1969. As they hold reunions, celebrate their accomplishments and mourn their losses, some alumni might also reflect on how much and how little the country has changed since then.
As the new grads left high school in that summer of 1969, they entered a country that was as divided, perhaps even more so, than our country is today.
The polarization of 1969 revolved around an unpopular war, a recent bitterly contested presidential campaign, continuing civil rights struggles, and a feeling that America was spinning out of control. The economy was booming, but in the tradition of money-can’t-buy-you-happiness, Americans were angry and unhappy. Their country was riven with conflicts that tore apart families and communities.
The arguments at a family dinner these days are comparable to those of the late ’60s.
On the other hand, 1969 was also the summer of the first moon landing, and the amazingly peaceful Woodstock music festival. There was hope that in some ways, we could still pull together to achieve and celebrate.
Youth culture was firmly entrenched as a driving force of much of American life in 1969, as reflected in popular music, film, television programs, fashion, advertising campaigns and spending habits. As countless commencement speakers that year no doubt emphasized to youthful graduates, the world was theirs to both admire and improve.
In many ways, all of the above could be stated about our country in the summer of 2019. There is much to celebrate about what we continue to achieve. But there is also hate and bitterness and division to decry.
Is this a case of history repeating itself 50 years later, or have we never really learned to bridge the deep rifts in our society?
What has our own graduating class, whether it’s ’69, ’79, ’89 or ’99, done to make the world a better place?
Traditionally, parents want their children to have a better life than their elders, to be better educated, to achieve more, to make positive changes, to be involved citizens, and to be happy people. How many of us have attained those goals, and how many of us have turned away from those challenges?
So, as we hold school reunions in coming weeks, here’s a challenge to new grads: Try to do a better job than the rest of us have done in the past 50 years.