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The Luckiest Generation: 50th High School Reunion

I got to the first event of my 50th high school class reunion when the cocktail party was already in full swing in a hotel party room jammed with some 300 elderly people.

There was no line at the bar.

Drinks were cheap so I got a double and scanned the crowd, spotting an old girlfriend. Like 90 percent of us, she wasn’t skinny like she was back in 1959 when we graduated from Cleveland Heights High School.

She had run off to New York at 21, eventually married and raised a family while running an antique business with her husband and now lived in Florida where they relocated and were still working.

Life was good, prosperity, happiness, family and friends. The room was filled with people whose lives were everything they were supposed to be for a generation that came of age in the 1950s when rock-and-roll and the space age were being born, when ordinary people suddenly could buy houses and cars and kids were expected to go to college.

It seemed like nearly everyone in the class of 600 did go to college. The room was filled with doctors and lawyers and accountants and realtors and insurance agents, teachers and therapists of all types, engineers and executives and entrepreneurs, even a few writers and artists and musicians.

It didn’t matter whether they got all A’s or all C’s in high school. They had grown up in a middle class suburb and now were rich or at least upper middle class. They had scattered all over the country, more in California than anywhere else, and had traveled the world.

There were exceptions like one friend who grew up a pool stick in his hand and a deck of cards in his pocket. He had gone through hard times gambling his way into bankruptcy and blowing up a couple of marriages before straightening himself out 15 years ago with the help of Gamblers Anonymous where he was now a star helping others. He started his own insurance business, married again and now was a devoted grandfather to 14, retired, sober and happy.

I’m sure there were others who had struggles among those who were absent and beneath the surface of those who were present.

But the face we all put forward was the one of a generation whose dreams had come true — true enough anyway even if they didn’t quite fit all the pictures we held in our minds when we were young.

The Memory Book is filled with stories of marriages that have lasted more than 40 years, of loving grandparents, of adventurous travel, of happiness and success. It is the story of America in the post-World War II era of exploding wealth and hyper-consumerism, when father knew best and mom stayed home and took care of everyone’s needs.

By the time we got to college there was the “pill” and rebellion against conformity, social inequality and war but ours was a time of relative innocence and the lives of my classmates reflect that.

We are old now, retired or semi-retired for the most part, the pre-boomer generation with long life expectancies. Our children are gifted with greater affluence and even better educations than we had.

Our parents were the greatest generation, no doubt, overcoming the Great Depression and lack of education to achieve the middle class. We were the luckiest generation, spoiled and indulged, educated and liberated from many of the cultural restraints of the past.

As I skimmed the surface of long-dormant friendships that dated back to grade school, I kept searching for some answers to my own sense of self, then and now, and to who we had become. At times I felt like the same awkward, shy adolescent I was
back then.

I didn’t have any moments of epiphany and don’t think I found anything profound. Most of my classmates have become like the rich, protective of our wealth and status, desirous of perpetuating what our families have achieved.

But there was an undercurrent of something else in play, a sense of adventure that ran through most people’s lives as they followed their dreams wherever they led them. I’m sure there are some people for whom life has turned out badly but 90 percent of my class is still alive and kicking, younger and more vital than our 68 years of age might seem, often deeply involved in charities and community groups.

On the plane home I ruminated about my belief that we’re undergoing a fundamental change in American society that goes far deeper than just another economic recession. I couldn’t help wondering about how the lives of all those grandchildren will turn out in a world where economic growth has slowed and opportunity for material success become limited.

Two nights of partying with old friends and acquaintances gave me hope that there’s more to us than just preserving what we’ve attained. We are younger than our years and have much to give after spending the prime of our time looking after ourselves.

Once we believed you shouldn’t trust anyone over 30. Now, we probably shouldn’t trust anyone under 30. Our lives have taught us how to change with the times and maybe, just maybe, we will see how lucky we’ve been, how much we have to give back to help create a new America where everyone has the same opportunities that we in the Heights High Class of ’59 have had.

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17 Responses to The Luckiest Generation: 50th High School Reunion

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ron, you say
    “On the plane home I ruminated about my belief that we’re undergoing a fundamental change in American society that goes far deeper than just another economic recession. I couldn’t help wondering about how the lives of all those grandchildren will turn out in a world where economic growth has slowed and opportunity for material success become limited.”
    It’s a fundamental problem if you wish for a better America than of our past. It’s not going to happen, unless a miracle occurs.
    http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/739/woodstock-gentler-generation-gap-music-by-age
    By lopsided margins, the public says that older adults are superior to younger adults when it comes to their moral values, work ethic and respect for others. Even younger adults share in these assessments. The only exception to this pattern has to do with attitudes toward people of difference races. Here, a plurality of the public says that younger adults have the upper hand.
    There lies the problem. The “older” generation believes that “moral values, hard work, and respect for others” are paramount. Whereas, the younger generation believes that “respect for the differences of race” is paramount. Again, there lies the problem, reality.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Correction to above,
    Whereas, the younger generation believes that POLITICAL CORRECTNESS is paramount

  3. Anonymous says:

    “We are younger than our years,” you say about yourselves as a class. Maybe it’s just that the expectation that anyone over 60 is supposed to be a certain way is what is obsolete. Even for this group which as you say is mostly overweight, and average looking, 60 is the new 50 and telling anyone over 50 that they’re “seniors” and sending them the depressing AARP card which says “you’re old, welcome to the club of old people” is what’s wrong. NOT that your set is “younger than our years,” but the out-dated prejudices, the ageism.
    College kids today do face the opposite set of expectations. Their experience now is that the jobs just aren’t there even for the grads of the best schools, which forces a lot of them into service organizations to “get experience” and wait out the recession. Then when they do get a decent job, buying a house and educating your one-two kids and getting them through college IS a huge accomplishment in itself, at least here in L A. I imagine things haven’t changed all that much in Cleveland or many other small cities in that regard.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Dear 9:32:
    Your sneering dismissal of a positive value — respect for people of different races — as “political correctness” is revealing.
    If your vision of “a better America” is a mono-ethnic suburban paradise filled with people just like you, you’re not the first to cling to such notions: At various times in our history, folks like you have erected implicit and explicit barriers that said “No Irish”… “No Italians”… “No Jews”… “No Polacks”… “No Coloreds”… “No Mexicans”… “No queers”…
    That is not America, and most certainly not “a better America.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    “College kids today do face the opposite set of expectations. Their experience now is that the jobs just aren’t there even for the grads of the best schools, which forces a lot of them into service organizations to “get experience” and wait out the recession. Then when they do get a decent job, buying a house and educating your one-two kids and getting them through college IS a huge accomplishment in itself, at least here in L A. I imagine things haven’t changed all that much in Cleveland or many other small cities in that regard.”
    I giggled to myself when I read this. “Guarantees”? My friend, life is not guaranteed to anyone. Go back several generations past today’s boomers or grads for instance.
    At 88, I know absolutely that there were opportunities out there but it was up to me to find a job where my love of ideas and writing would fit in. I was in my teens during the DEPRESSION. Then there was WWII. I was a “Rosie” in the forties.
    When I went back to school here in
    the Valley 21 years ago to finish my incomplete final semester at the U of Illinois which required going back home to take care of my Mom who died that year of cancer, I found I had to take 40 units here in California, to graduate. So, OK, I did exactly that and drew a double-line under an endeavor I personally prided myself on.
    I was a stay-at-home Mom but I did not play tennis. Scouting (girl and cub), PTA little league, people would call and ask me for help and I would say yes. Their job was over, but mine just began.
    I told my Pastor, when I am called, remember I said “Ciau”. I love living. Good luck to all
    of us whatever our “diversity” – aren’t we all different? Thanks, Ron, for sharing!!!!! Ciau. TH

  6. Sandy Sand says:

    Would you people please start using names, even faux ones. It’s so hard to keep track of time-stamped anonymouses!
    And what of those who were no-shows?
    Too down on their luck? In jail for Wall Street fraud? Too ashamed of their current situations or too snobby because of their success?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sandy Sand, What an interesting question? They could even be dead. It has been years since I graduated High School (Hyde Park High in Chicago)
    and I have never gone to a reunion. I have always had something else to do that I found more interesting. My name? I am
    Teddy Howell. Want to meet for lunch someday?
    I am sure you are very interesting.

  8. Undocumented American says:

    You are part of the “Silent Generation” (1927-1945): between the “GI generation” (1907-1927) since christened “the Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw and the “Baby Boom Generation”(1946-1964). The Silent Generation will be known for two things: Elvis Presley and not having anybody from that generation become President of the United States. The GI generation occupied the White House until 1992. Then Baby Boomers got in. The Silent Generation was locked out.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Are you talking to me? I remember FDR AND HST as a child. TH

  10. Anonymous says:

    I love this.
    There are literally 5,000 moms, dads and teachers during a work day outside of the LAUSD HQ.
    And Ron Kaye who supports the school choices resolution won’t blog about it because god forbid he give any credit to Mayor Villaraigosa’s leadership on this issue to get the resolution passed.
    Ron your right-wing feathers are showing!

  11. K says:

    2:47… say WHAT? Villar is giving control of LAUSD away because he himself failed to control it!
    Do you think for one second that this guy does anything for the greater good? Puh-leeze!

  12. Spiffy says:

    Ron, I don’t think you saw the whole of your generation at that reunion. You didn’t see the alcoholics that WWII and the Korean War produced. You didn’t see the crippled and maimed those two wars produced. You didn’t hear of the secret abortions before it was legal, or the Black, Asian or Latino kids who were not allowed to dance with the White kids in the 50s. You didn’t hear of high unemployment and people who can’t find a job because there was no high unemployment among Whites in the late 50s and early 60s during the post-war era. There was high unemployment for Latinos and Blacks, but not for Whites.
    I’m glad for you and your friends. You could buy homes in the early 60s that were worth 1 year’s pay, like when my dad bought his big house in the Valley for all of us for about $32,000 in 1964. Nowadays even in North Hollywood someone has to be earning about $200,000 a year if they hope to buy a home that is worth 1 year’s pay.
    Quite frankly, that’s why I think your generation turned out so well. You could buy a home—not a condo–for a year’s pay. And if you were White and male you could easily find a good job. It’s hard to have a good life if you can’t get a good job.
    Everything is a mess now—nationwide. Now a college degree cannot possibly guarantee one a good job. Now it is estimated that the average person will change careers at least 7 times in their working years. At least.
    So yes, you were fortunate to be born when and where you were. But that’s not the whole story of your generation. :-/

  13. Who do you trust? Over 30? Under 30? The ones not to trust are morally superior elected elite know it alls who are unwilling to make hard choices. No wonder the City, State, and Washington are broke.

  14. Anonymous says:

    @August 25, 2009 10:30 AM:
    Wake up, you little fool. “Respect for people of different races” is synonomous with today’s “affirmative action”. That is, special treatment is provided so that equality is enacted. That is bad!!! That is the way of today’s leadership.
    You foolish fool, the progressive statement would be to respect the “sameness” of all peoples, and that they are celebrated.
    BTW, I’m “minority” in more ways that your foolish mind can image. Wake up.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Dear 6:22,
    I have no doubt that your brand of Lebensuwertes leben draws huzzahs at your neighborhood klavern.
    But for those of us outside the bunker, “respect for people of different races” means just that. No more and no less.
    Whether you’re “minority” or not is irrelevant. You’ve already revealed yourself for what you are…

  16. Anonymous says:

    My dear August 25, 2009 10:19 PM,
    So have you.

  17. Vanda Perro says:

    I am looking forward to my High School Reunion.

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