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Reflections from the Class of 1969

Reflections from the Class of 1969

By Columbia Home Blogger & Contributing Writer, Nellie Symm Gruender

Reflections From the Class of 1969

Over the last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my 45th (gasp) High School Reunion in Decatur, Illinois. Our graduating class of 1969 had almost 500 people.

During our celebrations some of my classmates and I had a chance to sit and reflect on our generation. Those of us who were born in the early 50’s had the unique experience of spanning the “Leave It To Beaver” generation with stay at home moms, long skirts and short hair and the Woodstock Generation of free love and peace while we were at war. Our school dress code dictated that females could wear only dresses or skirts and male students had to have their hair cut above their ears.

Women in our class had the opportunity for higher education but it generally meant roles in nursing, teaching, or secretarial work, because that’s what women did in the workplace. The men in our class all faced the threat of being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Some would opt to further their education or enter a union and work for one of the many factories that were the lifeblood of Decatur.

Our current generation could be dubbed the “generation of random shootings” while we were the “generation of assassinations”. My classmates reflected that before the 24-hour news loop a sudden news break in the “regularly scheduled programming” meant there had been yet another assassination. We were horrified when President Kennedy was shot, then 2 days later Lee Harvey Oswald was shot on live TV. We felt the loss of what might have been when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed in the prime of their lives. We were the generation who watched Walter Cronkite nighty report triple digit numbers representing US soldiers who were killed in a war we didn’t understand.

We became the first generation of real explorers since Columbus. Space travel became a reality and we watched in awe as the first footprint was placed on the moon. Those in our generation were also the explorers of communication and connectivity. We have lived through a rotary, brick, and smart phones, and we saw computers go from filling a room to being placed in our pockets.

Our generation, despite how we felt at the time, had so much freedom. At the age of five I walked alone to my school, which was a half-mile from my house. I knew the names of every single neighbor as I passed their door, and I never heard of Stranger Danger. I was far more afraid of Russians with their communism than I was of being snatched from the street.

Of course not all our conversations were so deep. We reminisced about going to a Beatles concert for the enormous sum of $5.00, the changes in our hometown, the classmates who had passed on and how proud we were to be the class of 1969.

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