As a member of the Poteau, OK High School graduating class of 1972, this year represents a milestone shared by my fellow classmates. We are turning sixty. Trust me when I say, the last thing on my mind forty-two years ago as I walked across the stage in the Bob Lee Kidd Civic Center in Poteau was what my life would be like at age sixty.
I was still seventeen when I graduated, so my eighteenth birthday on June ninth was my most important goal. The other major thing on my mind as my eighteenth birthday approached (not counting girls) was Vietnam and the draft. I’d already written letters to the editor of the Poteau newspaper opposing the war. My dad was a World War Two veteran, having served in the Navy and ended up on Iwo Jima. He and I didn’t talk much about his military experiences or Vietnam, but I knew he wasn’t in favor of me going to Vietnam, probably because he knew how immature I was at the time, in spite of my interest in politics and speaking out publicly against the war.
I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take a step back. My goal in writing about the class of ‘72 is to compare our generation to that of our grandparents, parents and our children and grandchildren. Not to bore you with history or try and predict the future, but looking at the events which shaped all those generations is trip worth taking.
Our grandparents, born before 1900 saw a great deal of change in their lifetime. Like we greeted the year 2000, I can only imagine the excitement they felt as 1900 came into view. Their grandparents told stories of being in the Civil War. America was barely one hundred years old and still very much the frontier, which brought them west to the middle of the country. My own grandparents lived in Sebastian County Arkansas and some of them referred to the Civil War as the war of of northern aggression. A few in the current generation still do.
Our grandparents moved around on horseback as the telephone became a new way to communicate. They read news of the Wright brothers first flight, lived in houses without electricity, were veterans of World War One, the war that was supposed to end all wars and raised their kids (our parents) during the Great Depression. Change, innovation, war, times of boom and bust were as common in their lives as it has been in ours.
As children, our parents saw automobiles and telephones become common, lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and saw Europe fall into war. Called The Greatest Generation, our parents answered the call to serve in World War Two and Korea, going to Europe or the Pacific to fight there or serve here at home.
We’re called the Baby Boomers; kids of the returning veterans and we’ve had it a lot better than our parents and grandparents. We have seen at least as much innovation as they experienced and a lot more comfort. Air conditioning, dependable vehicles, subdivision housing, economic prosperity and a tenuous peace made our lives better before Vietnam divided the country. The similarities are just as numerous too. War, political and social upheaval and economic boom and bust seem to be common to all generations.
My own kids were raised differently than most in their generation because of a decision my late wife made before we married. Within a few months of meeting her, Becky told me she wasn’t going to college because her plan was to be a stay at home mom of two daughters and two sons. Since my plan was to be elected President of the United States in the year 2000, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I met her and our lives played out as she envisioned. Both parents worked in our generation, and as the divorce rate approached fifty percent, more and more of the families my kids knew were single parent or blended households as a result of second marriages.
Born in the 70’s and 80’s, our grew up with cable and satellite TV, personal computers becoming common, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the Reagan years, a stock market crash, an Arkansas company becoming the world’s largest retailer and the Governor of the state being elected President, wars around the globe including two in the Middle East and the 911 attacks. As they became parents, they experienced times of great economic prosperity and the worst stock market crash and economic depression since the Great Depression experienced by their grandparents.
So, what about our grandchildren? They certainly have a lot of advantages, but just as many challenges too. The number of single parent households continues to rise, social and economic change is occurring at a fast pace, the internet provides them with more access to technology and information and more potential danger. Speaking of my own seven grandchildren, they are way ahead in math, science, reading and know more about cultural diversity than I did at their age, which is good because the world they are growing up in isn’t the same as mine or their parents.
As the class of ‘72 turns sixty, we’re becoming the generation who is running the world. We’re business leaders, community leaders, looked to for our experience like we looked to our parents and grandparents. We have to learn fast, or let our grandkids teach us about quickly changing technology in cell phones, computers and TV. Are we becoming dinosaurs? Maybe, but our generation was all about rebellion, so we won’t go quietly. If we take care of our health, our life expectancy can be longer than any previous generation, which can be a blessing and a curse due to the cost of living, health care needs and out living our resources.
I smile at the enormous possibilities available for my grandchildren. My kids have a lot of responsibility as their parents, but our generation is healthier, hopefully wiser and certainly as much or more involved with our grandchildren than our grandparents were able to be in their time. With all this going for them, our kids and grandkids have the best opportunity to bring positive change to the world as any of the generations before them.
Happy 60th birthday to the class of 1972.