Baby Boomers are going back to school. It's 50th High School Reunion year for the first of the postwar babies. Since it wouldn't be school without a test, these are questions de rigueur for reunion goers: Where have we been? What have we done? What have we learned? Finally, like the goat traveling through the boa constrictor, we need to ask ourselves where are we headed and what can we do before we get there?
I had never been to a high school reunion. I had, however, been warned. There would be a room full of old, unrecognizable people of many sizes and shapes. But they would be nothing like the vibrant teenagers with whom we went to school. I was apprehensive, to say the least.
Our reunion, I knew, would be different! We were so smart. Good planning would make it meaningful. After all, my cousin Margie was in charge and she knew what to do! For the first time in recorded history, we would have pictorial name tags, designed by the Reverend Dee Hopkins. Despite being a bit forgetful, we would not lose them, as Dee had fixed them on lanyards to be hung around our necks.
Almost immediately, we encountered trouble. Because of bad vision, folks would grab the photo i.d.s to take a closer look. Unfortunately, the i.d.s hung so low that seniors were grabbing at much more personal identifiers. When we moved them up to avoid over familiarity, men were often left staring down the chasm of their youth. High School . . . it was all coming back now!
To learn more about what each person had done over the last 50 years, as well as how they looked, we produced a 50th Reunion Yearbook. Each entry would have the picture from the original 1964 Yearbook, a current picture and a brief self-written biography. Brief? All State Soccer Captain Dave Rashaw provided 3 words - veni vidi vici. Of course he had conquered, his wife was the vibrant, progressive State Assemblywoman from New Hampshire, Jane Harland. On the other hand, pioneering recording executive Steve McCormick went on record for almost 8 pages! Similarly, the pictures supplied by classmates varied from blurred selfies to smartly airbrushed resume shots. Fortunately, one very generous mate, Rich Cagney, forgave us for mixing up his photo with that of a classmate who couldn't make it to the reunion because he was in the midst of a lengthy incarceration!
It was fascinating to learn from conversation and the Yearbook, what people had done . . . and considered interesting. Some classmates reported they had stayed awake all night reading the Yearbook. Others gave it credit for just the opposite results.
Snapshots of the Class of '64 moved across the screen of Reunion, creating an epic movie of our time. Lives of change in a time of change. Not surprisingly, Sixties progressivism imprinted the Class of '64. Former Republican Bruce Hyer emigrated to become only the second Green Party Member of Parliament in Canadian History. Elena Schwolsky carried her high school political activity to AIDS nursing in Africa and Cuba. Sally Wessels, who "wanted to live and work instead of learning about how other people do that", became a carpenter in worker owned businesses and formed co-ops.
Some sought progressive change through education. Bill Destler, a mediocre ukelele player, became the innovative President of Rochester Institute of Technology. Michael Helfgott set educational policy on state and national education boards and as Vice President of University of Connecticut. Ethan Singer became a Dean at San Diego State University. And Mitch Lyons left law to organize the ground breaking Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts which teaches mental health, social and educational skills.
Even the Class Cheerleader Co-Captains took off into less chartered waters. Nancy Gurwitz left corporate law to head up ESL for adults in Jersey CIty, New Jersey. After a career in healthcare and fund-raising, Betsy Hardy leads wilderness retreats for women.
Others, like dentists Dave Barnett and Herb Gumpright and doctors Mark Reiner and Dave Prindiville expanded their practices to the underserved, while Connie Walker took her occupational and environmental health practices to those in need both in the U.S. and abroad.
Whether health care providers or educators, government workers or service employees, clergy, builders, even businessmen, clearly the Class was touched by the Sixties zeitgeist.
Serious notes also resonated. A necrology paid tribute to the ten percent of the class who had died. A long list of those who had done military service testified to the impact of the Vietnam War. Personal tragedies and reversals of fortune had spectacularly felled some of the best and brightest.
Some class members refused to return for reunion. Why should they come back to mingle with a group of people who were only thrust together almost randomly so many years ago. How could that be fun? What could they learn from that and from people so different? I had asked myself some of the same questions before the reunion and attempted to answer them after.
The reunion had been about changes. Who had traveled the furthest. Who had the most kids. The person who had been married the most insisted, "I couldn't have done it alone!" But of course, none of us could. It had been about growth, accomplishment and survival. Surprisingly, it was also quite a bit of fun.
As I listened to and read about experiences, I realized that the difference was that fifty years ago, we were required to be together for our own good. We were an involuntary community gathered together to prepare us for the larger world. Improbably lurking in the background was the real hero of the piece . . . our public high school. Wasn't it the school that brought us together, offering us an education, the foundations for building a life and lessons in how to live together with very different folks. It was our social and cultural framework as well as our academic education.
Perhaps most importantly, it taught the value of critical thinking, the utility of science and the importance of fact so invaluable now in a world threatened by superstition, slattern thought and bias.
Now, fifty years later, it brought us back not just to eat, drink, sing and dance, but to remind us of who we are and where we come from. The least we can do, particularly at this time in history and our lives, is to continue to build on these values. With more time, if not more resources, we can get involved in the public process . . . education, culture and even politics. Our generation ushered in the greatest social changes in this country's history. We fought for racial equality, disabled rights, acceptance of gays and lesbians, against gender bias and for protection of the environment. Why not continue those unfinished struggles. That way we'll have so much more to talk about . . . at our next reunion!