Saturday, July 30, 2022 – I sit with a small group of aging friends at our 60th high school reunion. Let that sink in for a moment – I graduated from high school sixty years ago.
On a nearby table is a photo of the class lined up in graduation robes, a very formal pose. It’s a far cry from the group I see around me. A woman across from me says, “John, it’s good to see you.” I strain to read her nametag across the ten feet that separate us. Finally, I say sheepishly, “I am sorry; who are you?” She gives me her name; it’s hard to reconcile it with the small, dark-haired girl I remember from long ago. So it is for the rest of the day as I look at these folks now gathered to celebrate the past.
So who were we, this class of 1962?
We were not the Greatest Generation (GG) or the Baby Boomers (Bbers). Most were born in 1942-44; the majority in 1944 (we picked up some who were held or moved back to our class – yes, that happened when I was in school). It is interesting to think about that. We were the small group that was never labeled. We, in many ways, had the attitudes of the GG, comfortably moving in the world of our parents and yet able to identify with the BBers who embraced the on-rushing future. We grew up listening to the radio. Our mothers read to us and were homemakers; TV was not our babysitter. Yet, we were in the group that invited Howdy Doody into our homes. We were fans of Elvis, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers. And it was our class in 1962, and others, JFK challenged to “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
I wish I could say that I had observed the transformation of these folks over the years. I joined the Air Force right after college, so I missed reunions 5-35, joining our high school class for the first time on the 40th. By then, this group of older folks I see in front of me had appeared. I know that each of those earlier reunions had a different flavor. After I retired from the Air Force, I was the alumni director at Hobart, where I saw that for the first reunions, cliques were still strong, and many were out to impress their classmates. When I rejoined these folks at our 40th, there was still some semblance of cliques, but primarily folks sat with others and talked and shared with their classmates this moment apart from the pressures of the modern world.
By the 60th reunion, much discussion centered on health issues: operations, aches, pains, and medications. Children and grandchildren were a secondary subject, and I witnessed no political discussions. All in our lives was not positive. We military folks compared our experiences with agent orange. There were several “new” younger wives but no younger husbands. Several of us had decided long ago to move on from our community to the broader world. For a short time, some served in the military as Vietnam encroached on them, one chose a career in government, and several left to live in larger cities.
Stay or move on. This was the decision we all faced. About 90 percent of the class seemed to stay in our small town and the local area. There they put down roots and became the folks I see in front of me at the 60th reunion. The ten percent that left seemed to live more glamorous lives as they traveled the country and the world, but here they were back at this reunion—linked to the others by invisible ties that drew them to this moment.
Not all were there. Our class had about 70 folks at graduation– if one counts, those that joined us from previous classes. Over the years, fifteen had passed on; others had simply disappeared and dropped off the alumni grid. Even today, with all the internet resources, they were invisible to us. Perhaps the bonds for them were not that strong. Or perhaps high school was not a positive experience as it was for those in front of me.
Americans tend to compare and contrast a lot. I did this, so my life must have been better. I lived in a large city rather than the small town of my youth. I traveled the world and was not stuck in the boring town where I grew up.
Well, who is to say they had a boring life?
The folks I see in front of me at this 60th reunion may not have seen Bangkok as I did, but they served on their local school boards and worked to improve their communities. They lived lives of consequence and were good citizens who improved our country. Thus, they fulfilled that challenge that JFK made to us so long ago.
What better thing can one say across the years?