In October of last year, my high school class held our 50th class reunion. I had intended to comment on this event in Easin’ Along before now, but in waiting a year to reflect on the achievements of my classmates and the turbulent times in which we came of age, I am even more impressed by the accomplishments of this wonderful group of people.
I had the honor of serving as our Class President and, after we gathered for dinner, I took the opportunity to deliver a few remarks to our group. Written below is an edited version of those remarks.
Looking Back 50 Years…
Around 1947 or 1948 3.5 million children were born in the United States. We were on the leading edge of the Baby Boom. Fortunately, we were the offspring of what later became known as “The Greatest Generation” … those rugged individuals who had faced a Depression and endured it fought a war and won it, then quietly came home to resume their lives and create the prosperity in which we grew up.
In 1962, or 54 years ago, 217 of those 3.5 million kids entered Bearden High School.
Here are some of my memories of that time…
I don’t remember much about my first day except that it started with algebra class (and I promptly went to sleep), but I remember much about the next four years. I was terrible at sports, about average in the classroom, and had great friends. I remember Sock-hops and Shoney’s; Madras shirts, Bass Weejuns, and Villager blouses. I remember our junior prom; I remember our intramural basketball team (the Aardvarks), and the fun we had in Hi-Y, and on the yearbook staff.
We didn’t have much to fret about back then as times were pretty good. Looking back now, however, I can think of three events that impacted all of us.
I remember standing at my locker outside of biology class on an afternoon in 1963, awkwardly trying to flirt with that cute Janie and getting nowhere, when Mike walked up and asked, “Did you hear that they shot Kennedy?” I couldn’t tell you what I was saying to Janie, but I’ll never forget the words Mike said to me. Suddenly the world didn’t seem so innocent anymore. I’ll bet you remember where you were too.
I remember the fall of 1964 when African American students enrolled in Bearden High School for the first time. The class of ’66 received four new classmates – Darnell, Lillian, Sylvia, and Gloria. I can’t imagine the apprehension felt by those four lovely young ladies as they walked into our classrooms, but we accepted them with the respect and dignity that they deserved–traits that were taught to us by that Greatest Generation. Looking back through a fifty-year lens, I’m grateful for the class of my classmates. Similar events had torn up campuses in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, but it was just another day at Bearden High.
The third event that altered the trajectory of our lives was boiling up in a small country in Southeast Asia. Maybe some of you could have pointed out Viet Nam on a map at that time, but I know I couldn’t. Because of what was going on there, every male in Bearden who had no idea where Viet Nam was, knew about Draft Board 50. The draft and that war were to become significant factors in the lives of all of us…male or female.
I also remember that a few days prior to graduation we gathered in the auditorium at Bearden to perform our senior skit where we made a promise to ourselves and to the world by singing “Gonna Build a Mountain”, by Sammy Davis, Jr. The words went something like…
Gonna Build a Mountain,
Gonna build it high,
Don’t know how I’m gonna do it,
Only know I’m gonna try!
On June 1, 1966, a few days after that performance, and four years after walking into Bearden High, we assembled together one last time in the James White Auditorium. We were prayed over by a Minister and the father of a classmate; we listened to inspiring (cough) speeches by five of our best and brightest students around the theme of “Youth Wants to Know Values of Our Times”. We then strolled across the stage where another dad and a member of the school board handed us our diplomas. Suddenly 217 wide-eyed free spirits now had the world at their feet and were scattered by the four winds to build that mountain.
So, Bulldogs, it’s 50 years – and in my case, 40 pounds later…how’d we do? The bio forms that you sent to us, sheds a bright light on that.
In reading about the lives and careers of our classmates, I found that we had no professional athletes. The class of ’67 made that happen with Phil Garner, a successful baseball player, and manager. We had no career politicians and, probably because of that, we had no incarcerated criminals (pause).
If we had any, however, we would have had Becky, an Assistant DA to prosecute them, Chuck, a defense attorney to defend them, Carl a law professor to teach them something about the law, and Norman and Ernie, successful corporate attorneys to help them build a business. All five have had distinguished legal careers.
In addition to those five, remarkable achievement by our classmates can be found across almost every segment of American life. We truly have made our presence felt and are among the millions of Americans who make America work!
I want to take a few minutes to point out a few notables. I can’t name them all because that would leave us no time to take to the dance floor and dance like nobody’s watching, but here are a few…(last names omitted).
Doyle, MD. A cataract and refractive surgeon has traveled to over twenty countries teaching, consulting, and treating patients.
Mike, MD. A neurologist served for 30 years in the United States Army, then joined the faculty of the U of Hawaii. He was voted “Teacher of the Year” 13 times by his students at the University of Hawaii Medical School. His list of published papers and book contributions was so extensive, I stopped counting after 60.
Linda, Ph.D. A member of the faculty at a major University, is one of the foremost experts in the country on the relationship of parents, specifically fathers and daughters, after divorce. She has been featured on PBR, in the Wall Street Journal, and other distinguished publications.
Mike, has conducted research for St. Jude’s Hospital for over 30 years.
Cheryl, E.D. Teacher, consultant, mentor, author. Has consulted with school districts across the country in developing educational programs. Voted Knox County Teacher of the Year. Member of the Hall of Honor – College of Education, University of Tennessee.
Cheryl served on the staff of a Junior College for over 25 years. As an Associate Professor, she received Excellence in teaching and outstanding Faculty awards.
We’ve had five teachers with over 30 years in the classroom:
Jeanine, Kathy, Martha, Nancy (also children’s book author), Sarah
Twenty years in the classroom:
Linda, Terry, Joyce
David D.D, Served the United Methodist Church for 42 years.
Tom, served in business and education before obtaining a degree in Theological studies and ordained as an Episcopal priest. Now serving on a preaching fellowship at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Robert – President and Chief Operating Officer of a major restaurant chain with hundreds of restaurants throughout the country and in many countries throughout the world.
Jim, now EVP, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer of a major bank in Middle Tennessee.
Larry and Kathy have owned and operated a kitchen and bath design business in Knoxville for over 30 years.
Susan, LTC became the first female in the history of the US Air Force to finish first in her class in Officer Candidate School.
Mike, MD, (Col) Neurologist, Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
Lynn, Officer, U.S. Navy,
Larry, U. S. Navy,
Ernest. Colonel, US Army
Joe, Lt Colonel, US Army
Leonard, M SGT, US Army
The ultimate sacrifice was paid by Marine Lance LCpl Mike Dawson who was among 19 brave Marines killed in heavy fighting on June 17, 1969, in Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam. He was a member of the 3rd Bn, 3rd Marine Division. Mike was in his seventh month in Viet Nam. His name is inscribed on the wall of the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC.
Larry, now an engineering consultant, was Vice President of Global Financial Operations for Dupont, (Stainmaster and Lycra Divisions). He has traveled to over 72 countries and has published three novels under the pseudonym of J W Streett.
Terry obtained a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. Served as a consulting engineer for 18 years and as a professor at the University of Tennessee in Civil Engineering for 20 years.
Arts and Architecture:
James mastered the Danish language and has worked as an architect in Denmark for over 40 years.
Elizabeth has been a member of the Knoxville Symphony for many years as a violinist and harpist. She is a member of her own performing group.
Bill, now deceased, played the French Horn with the Milwaukee Symphony for 35 years. A noted bird watcher, he became an expert in hawk migration.
Scarlett. Inimitable, and talented. She has performed as a stage actress for a theater company in Anchorage, Alaska for many years
Pam has been recognized for contributing over 8000 hours of volunteer work at the Medical Center in Columbia, TN.
Eric volunteers three days a week at the Shepherd Spine Clinic in Atlanta assisting individuals with spinal cord injuries and helping them regain their ability to walk.
Cheryl was recently honored for thousands of hours of service with Helen Ross McNabb Center, an organization in Knoxville that provides help and support to individuals and families dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Jack for over a decade has worked for countless hours to provide food and shelter to homeless or unwanted animals.
Finally, the overwhelming majority of you have taken on the toughest and most important task of all by giving care, love, and support to your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as devoted and loving MOMS AND DADS and producing another generation of great Americans.
So, Bulldogs, I’d say we did ourselves proudly…
We Built that Mountain
We didn’t just try
We kept our word
And we built it high
Thanks again for coming, and give yourself a big hand!
With that, I’ll be Easin’ Along…