This weekend’s commencement ceremonies planned at the four school districts in our coverage area has me tripping down memory lane.
I know that these grads—members of the Class of 2019—aren’t thinking about reminiscing over the experience as the years fly by (’cause to them, the years aren’t flying yet), but I guarantee that when their own kids and grandkids graduate, the inevitability of remembering and comparing surfaces.
I graduated in 1975 from Livonia Stevenson High School. The ’70s were a strange time for young people, which included me back then.
Some things had settled down on the heels of the free-for-all 1960s, but some of the individualism that the counterculture movement inspired remained.
Grades were optional in some classes in favor of a pass/fail system that was touted as less intimidating. It was thought that students might dabble in something they wouldn’t normally even try because there was no pressure to earn an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ or whatnot.
We also created our own schedule, more or less, with a wide variety of electives offered to supplement the few required classes. I took creative writing, literature and art, and even a computer programming class where we created flow charts to write programs. My mom made me take one semester of typing so I’d “have something to fall back on.”
We had smoking corridors—yes. You read that right. Actual smoking corridors where students could go outside between the buildings and light up in between classes.
We had fire drills, but we didn’t have active shooter drills. The biggest problem among the students at the time was drug overdoses, and it wasn’t opiates. It was LSD. I was too chicken to try it, still am, despite what Michael Pollan says these days.
By the time I was a senior, I had just three classes a day. I had earned enough credits to graduate so I attended school from about 9 a.m.-noon, and after that headed out to my big-time job as a keypunch operator at Awrey Bakery. While all my friends were making minimum wage (it was $2.10 an hour back then), I was reeling in a whopping $2.50 that soon grew to $2.75, while enjoying all the delicious pastries and treats I could eat.
I was engaged to be married and thought I knew all the secrets of life. I was in a hurry, afraid that I wouldn’t live long enough to do the things I wanted to do, and I wanted to do them RIGHT NOW. While I was in a minority being engaged at 17 and then married at 18, it wasn’t entirely unheard of back then. College for women and girls—and even men and boys for that matter—wasn’t automatic, nor was it necessary or required to make a good living and forge a successful career. Manufacturing was still going strong, though the American auto companies were beginning to falter with quality issues. The gravy train at the auto plants was rolling strong.
The year I graduated a new car cost less than $5,000. I bought my first used car for just $600, and drove it until the engine blew up, loving every minute of it.
In the mid- to late-’70s, you could afford an apartment and a vehicle, and still have some fun if you had a decent full-time job, which I did, right after graduation. I started as a receptionist at a Dearborn company called North American Pharmacal and worked my way up from there.
Would I say it was a simpler time? Probably not. It was different, though, and I never dreamed or even remotely considered that we’d carry the world in our pockets via mobile phones. Nor would I imagine we’d be forever plugged in to a virtual reality, which has replaced real life and real relationships for many.
Who knows what’s in store for this year’s grads? Based on what I’ve seen and experienced in just over four fleeting little decades, I still cannot imagine it. Perhaps it’s just as well.
Email Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.