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50th reunion brings back memories of war, music, social change
In September 1963, 17 enthusiastic students began their final year of high school in Barrett, Minnesota, with one goal in mind: to graduate. They all graduated that spring evening, May 18, 1964 and now 50 years have passed--time that seems to have gone by almost as fast as the blink of an eye.
The graduates all had dreams, plans, goals and ideas about what the future would bring. Some stayed on course, while others may have wandered for a while on the road less traveled, but they all contributed to the world in some way. Born in 1946, these grads were the first of the baby boomers, of which I am one.
Now this 50th anniversary is being celebrated in 2014, not only for my class from Barrett, but for classes throughout they country as well. We can reflect back to our senior year, see how school and the world impacted us then and update each other on where and what we are today.
Looking back, major events occurred not only the year we were born, but also the year we were seniors.
Life in 1946
Harry S. Truman was president when we were born, and at the end of that year he officially ended World War II--if only this would have been the last war. In a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill first talked about the Iron Curtain. Our country was done with one war, but the Cold War was just beginning. As elementary schoolers, we would experience nuclear blast drills in school.
The League of Nations held its last meeting and the United Nations was born to help keep peace in our world.
Ho Chi Minh was elected president of North Vietnam on March 2. Little did we know then how much he was to impact our lives with the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. I worked from September 1969 to October 1970 in Vietnam with the Army--what an emotional year.
On July 5, bikinis went on sale in Paris. Was this the beginning of the sexual revolution, which really took off in the ‘60s as we were graduating?
The Flamingo Hotel opened on the Las Vegas strip in December. How many of us visited Vegas in the last 50 years and left some hard-earned money there?
And Frank Capra’s movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” featuring James Stewart and Donna Reed, was released in December. Do we now look at our lives as a “wonderful life” as did George Bailey in the movie? Did we make a difference for others?
Transformations in the 1960s
We grew up in years of economic growth and prosperity. Industry was transformed from manufacturing war material to making big colorful cars. Almost every household had a television, which brought the world into our living rooms. New schools were built, the new polio vaccine was developed to prevent that crippling disease, and rock ‘n roll got us dancing to a different beat.
As we anticipated entering 12th grade, we worked at part-time summer jobs, roller-skated, babysat and swam in Barrett Lake. Zip codes were introduced by the United States Postal Service changing forever how we addressed our mail.
In August, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington D.C. The next summer, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 abolishing racial segregation in the United States. Many major changes in human rights started happening as we were graduating, and they are continuing even today.
The world was good as we began our senior year of high school in September. Our young, popular president, John F. Kennedy and his lovely first lady were reigning in Camelot, leading our country, the greatest nation in the world. And then on Nov. 22, 1963, he was assassinated. I still remember where I was when I heard the news. It seemed to us young students as though our world would never be the same again. And maybe it wasn’t.
On Jan. 8, 1964, in his first State of the Union Address, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty.” Now, 50 years later, poverty may have won. At least statistics point to a shrinking middle class.
Then in February 1964, the Beatles performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I think their work may be to music what Shakespeare was to literature. Fifty years later, we boomers as well as others still seem to enjoy the Beatles’ music.
On a social note, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were married on March 15, 1964, for the first time. They went on to divorce and remarry and divorce again, and Elizabeth went on to marry again and again. Their social antics may have paved the way for the Kardashians.
The Ford Mustang was officially unveiled to the public on April 17, 1964. It was designed and developed especially for baby boomers. Half a century later, the car is still popular, and a 1964 model is probably worth more now than when it was new.
We 1964 graduates should be worth more now than when we graduated. We have 50 years of living and work experience along with savings and investments. And Social Security is still in effect.
Even as our world changed from our birth through high school, it kept right on changing through the last 50 years and is continually changing. We had wars; Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and terrorism. The computer brought us into the information age, and airplane travel made it easy to go to any place on earth.
However, the one fact that remains constant, besides taxes, and in spite of our efforts, is that the world still has problems. Now there is global warming, and we still have wars and conflicts, human rights inequalities, greed and political debates.
Remembering days gone by
Reflecting back on high school days, I feel we were given a sound academic background to build on as we went on to higher learning and jobs. One of the most valuable skills I learned was typing. Who knew then that the keyboard and computers would become so much of our daily lives.
Barrett High School was small, and now it is torn down, replaced with a new state-of the-art facility. Hopefully it is educating the students there as well as my old school did.
As my reunion date approaches, I struggle to lose the proverbial five to 10 pounds that many of us feel would make us look better. And I shop for the perfect outfit to wear, just as I did for some big event 50 years ago. Some things never change! Will I recognize my classmates? Have I changed? These are universal thoughts for others anticipating a class reunion. Soon, we will all find out as we celebrate our 50th at the same time Barrett celebrates Old Settlers Reunion, the annual town celebration. We Class of 1964 have now become the old settlers.
Yes, in the last 50 years we have gone from high school seniors to senior citizens. We meet to reminisce about days long gone and all that happened between then and now. We remember events and we exchange stories from the last 50 years. At times, it seems like graduation was yesterday.
Vonny Rohloff can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7861.