Other than serving as the de facto Master of Ceremonies I am also privileged to augment the festivities by offering some remarks that celebrate the life we have all experienced…… When you have 70 something years to draw from it’s easy to find something for everyone….or at least that’s my intent. So, let’s begin with a story from my college years that also involved a 55th reunion gathering.  Specifically, the Harvard College Class of 1913......my junior spring I had the occasion to serve as one of the bartenders for a dinner party for that class during Reunion week.  I poured drinks for about 4 hours to this thirsty crowd. In summary, it was a worthwhile gig, the alums were a polite, stodgy, largely audio compromised, and generous throng……meaning, the tips were great…… and as I was walking back to my dorm  I began thinking about how damn old they looked and reflecting on all of what they had witnessed over the course of their 77 year lifetimes…….. I pondered some odd little facts like……. the Titanic had sunk just a year before they graduated and the Wright brothers had flown 120 feet across the dunes in Kitty Hawk NC when they were only 12 ……….and here we were in 1968 preparing to travel to the moon.……. They lived through 2 world wars, the Great Depression and 4 political assassinations McKinley, Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and RFK had been shot 2 days earlier.

OK so why have I bored you with the musings of a random college junior from fifty plus years ago??  My reasoning is perfectly simple.  Tonight I want to usher you through a similar period of time…….the 73 years that it has been our unique experience to witness and survive.  Along the way we’ll  tweak some memories, ranging from those that make you smile to those that wrench at your soul……… and some you may not recognize because they zoomed past you when they occurred in real time……….  Hang on…..that was a really good pun…..if you have to groan so be it.…..

So where do we begin and how have I elected to organize this exercise in time travel.  I propose to present you with a collection of events that I believe are worth remembering………some of which I’ll only mention by name without further commentary……and following that…… I’ll move on to a reflection on some of the heroes and heroines of the past 70 years…….Do not infer import or significance from the order within any of my lists.

Let’s start with the events for which there is no good reason for me to pick off the scabs that it has taken years for us to develop……the scabs formed from the bleeding of our hearts:

It is simply a chronological list.

  • The Kennedy assassinations in 1963 and 1968
  • the Vietnam Conflict 1963 to 1975 – our war
  • The AIDS Pandemic – 1982 to the present Columbine et al  -  1999, multiple and…… more deadly……. mass shootings have happened over the past five years……here are six: Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso, and Sandy Hook.
  • 9/11 – If you have not visited Ground Zero since the museum opened, you must.
  • The Iraq War – Vietnam redux
  • COVID 19 – unfortunately, it is not yet a memory

And here are some events on which I will expound a little to help you relive them with me.

Apollo 11 – “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” the immortal words of Neil Armstrong on July 1969 as he set foot on the surface of the moon.  The US went from a simple satellite launching in 1958 to lunar exploration in eleven years’ time.  We had grown up watching TV shows and movies, recall Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, The Jetsons, and Star Trek, they filled our imaginations with visions of a future where space travel was “no big deal”……….Regrettably, I found that I had been so influenced by these TV shows that the wonder of that experience failed to register to the extent that was warranted by the magnitude of the accomplishment.  To this day I wish that I had been able to properly savor that moment. 

Cuban Missile Crisis – On the morning of October 14, 1962 my English teacher, Mrs. Weinstein, remarked that she prayed that we would all be alive to see the next day dawn because of the grave risks that awaited world peace when the US blockade would confront the Russian transports laden with missiles bound for Cuba…….  Two things happened; the Russians turned back, and the sun rose the following morning, right on schedule. I never forgot the feeling her prophecy provoked in my gut.  That’s my all too personal memory about that moment in our history.

Watergate – I have never believed that the Watergate break in was the only instance of blatant corruption in politics to that point in history. And over the past 50 years it seems to be coming more rampant.  Neither party is without blame, but I ask…….do the reins of power have to include the impulse to abuse that authority?......... ……what I’ll never understand is how Nixon could have imagined that George McGovern really posed a threat to his re-election in 1972?

the fact that this evenings’ event could not have occurred without The Digital Age. 

Was the discovery of the wheel any more profound?

 OJ Trial – “If the glove don’t fit you must acquit!”  Modern forensic science courtesy of Johnny Cochran……..  History has its share of show trials, think of the Scope’s trial,  Adolph Eichmann, the Lindbergh kidnapping…..but for TV ratings nothing came close to the OJ Trial…..Judge Lance Ito, Kato Kaelin, Mark Fuhrman, Marcia Clark……they were like a cast of characters from a best-selling novel …but the verdict is what secures its place on this list.

Cell Phones- Yes they had “walkie-talkies” even before WWII……and wrist radios in Dick Tracy comic strips, but nothing like today’s cell phones…..the first ones came with small suitcases to carry the batteries and electrical components….and the reception was akin to that involving tin cans and string…….. Today, I swear that most folks under forty would be more likely to forget their pants than their phones….fortunately for those they might encounter during the course of their day……… if they forgot their pants, they’d have no pocket in which to park their phone…….. So they’d have to return home, get their pants, put the phone into their back pocket, and then, venture back out.

Chernobyl – remember when nuclear power was going to solve our energy issues for all time? Chernobyl slammed that door.  The worst nuclear power plant disaster of all time killed 237 people in the first week after it occurred, and thousands prematurely. It created an 1100 square mile wasteland that is said to be uninhabitable for at least a millennium………. What do all of these catastrophes have in common?  Human error. I think we should work on a safer alternative.

Challenger explosion –  January 28th,1986 -  All of us recall our unfaltering belief in the capabilities of the NASA space program and how our faith in the technically astonishing had become so engrained that what we witnessed that morning was beyond comprehension. Events that violate our sense of order and possibility are burned forever into our consciousness………. Beyond the immediate awe that overcame me when I watched that ball of flame and smoky trail across the cloudless Florida sky,  what I recall,………… some 34 years later,……… are the prayerful remarks from President Reagan just hours after the loss. He closed that speech with these fourteen words…...., “and they slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”……..simply immortal and profoundly sincere.

Television – when we were born TV was barely an infant….the screens were the size of one’s fist. As we grew, so did the size of the screens.  Now they often cover entire walls in some of our homes.....  TV also evolved over time,………..most specifically in how it influenced our lives.  It did so in ways we never imagined when we sat cross-legged on the floor and watched Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo.  At times it helped us learn: Sesame Street and 60 Minutes….or made us laugh: The Flintstones, Dobie Gillis, and Laugh In,  it tested our imaginations: The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, maybe it enthralled us with mystery and drama: Columbo and Dallas, and lastly it may have instructed us about the some of our shortcomings as Americans…….. not everything we have said or done can be described as praiseworthy: All in the Family, Roots, and Law and Order..

Class President Tom Kennedy's Speech at the 55th Reunion