I would like you to travel back with me to the ancient world. The year is 1964, fifty years ago. I am a senior in high school. The month is May. I am sitting at the kitchen table with my blue Smith-Corona typewriter, listening to Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” on my hi-fi and day-dreaming.
I’ve just seen the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show a little while back – they’re so strange and not at all romantic.
So, I am sitting here, writing the speech that I am to give at graduation. No, I am not the valedictorian nor salutatorian, but my classmates voted me to give the speech. I am writing about something deep: “The Future.” On graduation night, I will be seated near my boyfriend, Andy, because my last name begins with a “C” and he’s a “D.” Graduation night will be so exciting and scary. I feel on top of the world.
Now fifty years have flown by and here I am – a senior again, but this time a Senior Citizen.
What didn’t I know then that I know now?
I didn’t know that “Venus” would enter my life again every time I taught mythology.
I didn’t know that living on a farm in Wisconsin, driving a tractor, and picking apples—not fun when my friends were watching American Bandstand and the Mouseketeers—would prepare me for future not-fun tasks.
I didn’t know, as I listened to my 45 rpm records, that cassette tapes, then CDs, and then Pandora would replace my hi-fi.
I didn’t know that a computer would sit on my desk, not my Smith-Corona typewriter (what’s a computer?)
I didn’t know that an iPhone would take the place of our family’s one telephone on a three-family party line.
I didn’t know that my time as an exchange student in Chile in the summer of 1963 would give me the travel bug and also lead me to teaching Spanish for 27 years.
I didn’t know as a young Spanish teacher in California that I would later become a Latin teacher in Alabama.
I didn’t know that the math I avoided taking in high school would come back into my life seventeen years later when I studied computer science.
I didn’t know that I would enjoy math then and that later this degree would lead me to working at Intergraph Corporation here in Huntsville before I started teaching at Randolph in 1988.
I didn’t know that that French I studied in in high school would enable me to read a 302-page book written in French for my doctoral dissertation.
I didn’t know that studying every evening at the kitchen table late into the night would pay off. My mother used to say, “Why are you breaking your brain, Katie?”
And I didn’t know that my high school sweetheart, Andy, would become my husband of now 45 years, and that we would have three wonderful children.
It sounds like I didn’t know very much. But, what I came to know only slowly as the years were passing by was why I was "breaking my brain": I loved to learn. And I loved to work hard. I enjoyed it. And everything I did became linked and intertwined with the “NEXT BIG THING” in my life because I had prepared myself for the unknown, that “Future” of my high school graduation speech.
Just like me fifty years ago, all of you students sitting out there don’t know very much–about what the future will be like: what all of the yet-to-be-invented gadgets will be, nor how people will solve the global challenges, nor even what those challenges will be.
Sitting where you are, you don’t even want to think about fifty years from now. I know you don’t because I didn’t either, back in 1964.
But, knowing now what I didn’t know then, I know that “hard work” means so much more than I could have imagined back in 1964. It enabled me to do things that I was told I wasn’t “smart enough” or “good enough” to do, and to do them with enjoyment.
So, it may be difficult to imagine, but fifty years from now, when you look back through all those years, and if you feel that you have had a successful and happy life, it will be because of all that hard work – some of it “not fun.”
As they said in the “ancient” ancient world, Gaudeamus igitur, “Let us rejoice, be happy!” Work hard and enjoy life!
NHS induction ceremony photos by David Brown; American Bandstand still, Google images.