Things that can be learned by attending a 50-year high school class reunion.
For one thing, people sure look a lot older than they did in those yearbook photos. Secondly, I doubt if on graduation day, there was a single person from the class of ’69 at Coeur d’Alene High School who gave any thought about 50 years into the future. They were thinking more about going to college, finding employment, or just getting the heck out of Dodge.
Today, everybody has “been there and done that” as far as dealing with health issues and life’s challenges. Our class size was just over 320, and 69 had passed away. I still can see many of the faces behind those names.
It sure was good to see those who are still alive. From my standpoint, it was like seeing life flash before my eyes without having to die, or going through a “celebration of life” without attending a funeral.
Yes, I learned a lot of things from that magical weekend. One of the gorgeous cheerleaders from back in the day, Pam Yates, told me a funny story about how she was called into the principal’s office for leading a different kind of cheer … “SEX, SIN, BEER AND WINE, WE’RE THE CLASS OF ’69.” Who said poetry was dead? That grumpy old assistant principal didn’t like the cheer, but seniors were ready to give Pam the Miss America crown – even if they had to steal it.
As for the politics, they were alive and well during my school days. My senior year began in the fall of 1968, almost three months after Bobby Kennedy was killed and in the same year Martin Luther King was shot. There were regular conversations about the presidential race with Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, and the Vietnam War was always a hot topic of discussion.
I turned 18 just before my senior year, and desperately wanted the right to vote so I could help put Nixon in the White House. I also favored the Vietnam War, buying into the argument that we had to stop the spread of communism. I changed my views on both fronts as time passed, especially as the Watergate scandal was growing and Nixon was being caught with his lies. But I was not shy about expressing my opinions, as flawed as they were, and I had no problem striking up conversations with my classmates.
A friend that I caught up with over the weekend, Mike Shepperd, told me that our government teacher – Mr. Johnson – was highly entertained by the political banter. He’d intentionally come into the classroom a few minutes late to give us a chance to finish our political discussions. Mr. Johnson figured that what he was hearing at the door was solid gold for any government teacher.
And all this time, I thought the old man was taking a little extra nap time.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Mike, who spent some of his career teaching government. Taking a page from Mr. Johnson, Mike knew what to do during his teaching career when he heard students talking about politics.
Students today have a long list of topic choices, including Donald Trump and potential Democratic challengers. There’s also Russian interference in elections, a crazy dictator in North Korea, gun control, climate change and gay marriage. If we had that kind of smorgasbord 50 years ago, Mr. Johnson could have gone my senior year without a giving a single class lecture.
But in terms of political passion, there was nothing dull about what was happening in 1968-69. Books have been written and documentaries have been produced about that stormy political year. Some of the good stuff, such as the Moon landing and Woodstock, came just after graduation.
Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with only a few of my classmates. Some have stayed in the Coeur d’Alene area, while others have gone to different places. But for one glorious weekend, those of us in the class of ’69 could be kids again – not so much in appearance, but inside our hearts.
To borrow from the great Bob Hope, thanks for the memories.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.