Everyone 50 years ago yesterday I graduated from Ross S.Sterling Senior High School in Houston, Texas. It was a small graduating class.Some of us were headed to college. Some of us were headed to the military. I was in the US Navy Reserve. I was on my way to basic training in San Diego, California. Over 4 years later, I would get a shrapnel wound in the chin that would earn me a Purple Heart; one of the 5,500 awarded to US Navy personnel during the Vietnam War.
One former Ross S. Sterling student would die in Vietnam. Three students from Jesse H. Jones High School would die in Vietnam. One Jesse Jones classmate would have his nose literally blown off in Vietnam.
I have given you my lessons learned in the 50 years since graduation. Now please allow me to reflect on what kind of world we had then and what kind of world that we have now.
In 1967 we had the real possibility of the world being destroyed in a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. We had come close to Armageddon in October of 1962. We would come close again in 1979 and in 1983.
We had a war facing us that would end up killing over 58,000 Americans, 4,000 South Koreans, 500 Australians and some 3.25 million Vietnamese.
But we had hope also. There were big government programs to stop racism and income inequality. We all knew that if we worked hard and played by the rules that we would do much better than our parents. If we got sick, our very cheap health insurance would pay for our illnesses. Life expectancies were increasing. We were going to live longer than our parents. If we were qualified to go to college, a way would be found to pay for it. "Love was in the air" and we all were full of hope.
Do we have a better world fifty years later? I will leave that to you to decide. We are no longer close to a global nuclear war that could destroy the planet two or three times over. But we are facing the very real possibility that a miscalculation in North Korea could result in nuclear weapons being used in combat for the first time since 1945. We also face the real possibility of a nuclear terrorism event where terrorists could detonate a nuclear weapon in some city.
The differences in come and wealth between the richest and the poor are much greater now. The middle class is shrinking. It's more difficult now to start as a poor person and make it to great success in life. This is because education is now so expensive. In 1969 I ended up at Tulane University. It is a private university. In my day tuition was $5,000 per year. Today that same tuition for one year is over $50,000. Tulane was selective when I was a student. Now it is very selective. You have to have super SAT scores and grades to get in. Those students with little money now need to take out student loans in the ten of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance a college education. They enter the work force saddled with giant debts that will hold them back for decades.
The job market had its ups and downs 50 years ago. But most people still had hope of finding a job that could support themselves and their families. This is no longer the case now. There are many low-paying jobs but few well-paying jobs.
Life expectancies are declining. People in my generation are dying younger than their parents in some cases. Health insurance and health insurance premiums have become outrageously expensive. The cost of medical care has gone up geometrically. "God help you if you get really sick or injured." The medical bills will bankrupt you.
One of my most beloved books is The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer. It's a novel that follows a group of Harvard students from the 1930's to 1968. The book ends with one of the Harvard students talking to his son. He apologizes to the young man for not leaving him with a better world. I shall leave it to you to decide on my words.