Monday, August 8, 2011

Where did those decades go?

Members of the Fortier class of 1971 at the recent reunion
It seems that it was only but a few years ago when I was forced to read "Beowulf" and had my first crack at cold reading a play, nailing the role of Tom in "The Glass Menagerie." But, no, it was much more than a few years. Indeed, it is well over 40 years ago that I endured the end of the period of time known as the Sixties. That point was driven home this weekend as I joined in the celebration of my graduating high school class. The class of '71 had a lot of things to endure. We were part of the generation that welcomed or fought court-ordered desegregation. Our class was literally half black and the other half mostly white, Hispanic and Asian. This balance did not extend to classes before or after. Our class was the tipping point. In later years the majority of students were black. The dwindling number of white and Hispanic students, whose parents chose to enroll them elsewhere, led to disparities of 90% and higher for black students. When the balance between races was more balanced as in the Class of '71, it forced students to confront those issues of racism that existed in outside society and glean more perspective from other quarters. Our class also dealt with a large amount of sexism. Women were not considered able to take on certain jobs such as policemen and firefighters. Very few politicians were women and a woman had yet to be nominated to the Supreme Court or be a candidate for either President or Vice-President. Need I mention the school-sanctioned Future Homemakers of America club? We were also embroiled in an unpopular war (or any wars really popular?) that was sending our own peers to fight an unknown enemy - and possibly die - in faraway rice patties. We had experienced assassinations in rapid succession of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate and Senator Robert Kennedy and were still reeling from those losses. Is there any wonder with so much to consider that many of our generation took to experimenting with drugs? While there were some pharmaceuticals that were popular in some circles, the most abused drugs at that time were tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. That marijuana had taken on such widespread acceptance along with a host of psychedelic and mind-altering drugs such as L.S.D., peyote or hashish during this period could be credited to a number of factors. Suffice it to say that conditions were ripe for members of the Class of '71 to question the American lifestyle and the manner of what was considered the norm (a nuclear family) and the trappings of success (money, fancy cars, etc.). We had tuned in and turned on and listened to the music of revolutionaries like the Beatles, the Doors and the Rolling Stones who advised us to love and party while we still had the time. We also heard from urban voices who cried for change like the Temptations in their anthem "Ball of Confusion" and Sly and the Family Stone with "Everybody Is a Star." What brought all of this back home recently is that I shared this past weekend with my former classmates at our (gulp!) 40th reunion. The faces have changed, the hair has grayed or disappeared in many cases and the waistlines have spread. But we are still very much the same. We are glad to know one another and while we don't see everyone that often, it is good that we get together and reminisce about where we were and how things were when we were still impressionable and for the most part without families of our own. Some members of the class have as many as six grandchildren and one admitted to having several great-granchildren. Some have been married as long as 45 years, but none of that really matters. What matters are the connections we made in a very turbulent time in our country's history. It was a time when we grew up and a time which made us very different than those that have followed including our own progeny. I am immensely proud to have been a class officer and to have been part of leading this class. I hope to be here for many more of these celebrations and have volunteered to lead the efforts in ten years when we will be celebrating our golden reunion. Our school, Alcee Fortier Sr. High School, is no more. It was restructured after Hurricane Katrina into Robert Mills Lusher Sr. High School, a charter school. But even so, we as a class are still very much together. All praise our alma mater. She lives within our hearts.

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