by Randy Hitchcock
One definition of perspective is “the ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance.” Still, fifty years’ worth of perspective seems inadequate to fully appreciate those few years we spent together in the late Sixties, members of Skyline High’s Class of 1969. And for those lucky enough to have made it this far, our worlds from 1966 to 1969 now have a dreamlike quality.
Education, of course, doesn’t stop when we graduate or leave school. So: what have we learned in all that time? How do we view those innocent years before the full responsibilities of adulthood confounded our plans, and, perhaps, idyllic expectations for the future?
Leafing through Volumes 5, 6, and 7 of the Aquilian, our [still-] prized yearbook, the transformation from fresh-faced high school sophomores in the fall of 1966 to been-there-done-that seniors in the spring of 1969 is apparent. Some of our peers had a powerful sense of direction, never a doubt as to where they were going: a term, “river people,” was coined to describe the inevitable direction their lives seemed to flow. For most of us, though, not so much. Outside the protective enclave of Skyline, events swirled that would sweep most of us into more than just the anticipated destinations of college, a family business or desired career, marriage, church mission, or some combination.
It wasn’t as obvious then, but our high school years were among the most tumultuous, culture-changing, critical years in our nation’s lifetime, too. Just in 1966, we witnessed the dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War in faraway Asia with the bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong. Medicare, the de facto health plan for almost all of us now, began that year. So-called “Miranda Rights” were mandated by the Supreme Court. Richard Speck and Charles Whitman, in two now-infamous tragedies, brought the specter of serial killings and school shootings to prominent public attention. Miniskirts arrived, as did Star Trek and Batman on TV. The Dow closed at 785 in 1966, and gasoline was just 32 cents a gallon.
While we tried out for track, football, or Talons in 1967, tested ourselves in drama club, Model U.N. or Horizon staff, or made sweet music in Orchestra or Choir, momentous events were happening around us. The “space race” was at its height, so the US and USSR signed the “Outer Space Treaty” to prevent space from becoming a war zone; Israel fought for its life in the 6-Day War; Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in South Africa; and the Beatles released the most influential album of all, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Ominously, racial and gender-rights movements were gaining influence and momentum across the country, their tremors still strongly felt.
As juniors, then seniors in 1968, our class gradually assumed the controlling positions of Skyline’s student institutions. For some among us, it meant we were just a year away from ending the drudgery-futility-embarrassment-torment-boredom cycle of high school, and all that went with it. Yeah, some good times, but good riddance. For others, the prospect of Senior Prom, running for Class offices, possible State Championships, scholarship chances and the college admissions rat race had more appeal. Getting here had taken forever, and important decisions baited us.
All that against the tableaux of a year now considered “the most historic year in modern US history.” Who knew? Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. The USS Pueblo and its crew were captured by North Korea in an event that foreshadowed the following decades of animosity. Counter cultural and racial tensions boiled over, bringing riots and violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and elsewhere. The nation seemed at war with itself. Events in Vietnam forced LBJ to resign his campaign for reelection, and the controversial war fed a torrent of memorable happenings. Remember the Black Power salutes by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City Olympic games? The My Lai massacre, and Tet Offensive, in Vietnam? President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1968? O.J. Simpson winning the Heisman Trophy? Feminists protesting the Miss America Pageant? The unveiling of the world’s first computer “mouse” and word processor? Two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on a sesame seed bun? That’s right, the Big Mac arrived. All during 1968.
Graduation the following spring was joyous for the Class of ’69. New beginnings for everyone. Looking back now, it doesn’t seem quite as gigantic, as pivotal, as we imagined. Careers would start for some, military service for others. College, for striving Skyline ’69 grads, was more challenging, and took longer, than high school. And eventually . . . Getting married. Staying single. Starting a family. Finding a partner. Changing jobs. Losing jobs. Creating jobs. Traveling for a living. Moving around. Health issues. Raising the kids. Losing a partner. Losing a child. We were the “sandwich generation,” too: between caring for our children, and eventually our longer-lived parents, two incomes became the rule of necessity in many families.
Meanwhile, 1969 heralded more landmark events: The Cold War US and Soviet Union signing the first Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement, violence erupting in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, America sending the Apollo 11 astronauts to the first moon landing. The Boeing 747 made its maiden flight (as did the supersonic Concorde), ushering in the age of the jumbo jet. And Woodstock, in New York, became the indisputable hallmark of the Hippie culture and the music of our generation.
It was all so long ago, yet it remains vivid and relevant. So much more has transpired since: disappointments, high times, stresses, moves, sacrifices, good works, children, grandchildren (even great grandchildren), loss of parents, loss of children, loss of friends and classmates. So many classmates. Memories too numerous to recall without the aid of photos, families, and friends. Joys beyond description. Regrets so personal, and sometimes so painful, we recoil at the thought. Figuring out that what we once believed was important, wasn’t. Gaining perspective. Through it all we’ve endured, and now count our years preciously as they zip by in days and weeks.
So, we remember, and celebrate, and cherish the people and happenings that have shaped us, whoever we are, at this Golden Anniversary of our Skyline graduation. We remember, and mourn, our classmates who didn’t make it this far. And one big question remains: How did it happen so soon?