Last weekend, I attended the 50th anniversary celebration and reunion of my Saint Mary’s College High School Class of 1965, which included the late Dave Curtin, a longtime St. Helena police officer and American Legion Post leader.
The event is called The Golden Graduation and 40 members of the Class of 1965 marched with the Class of 2015 at Commencement.
I was invited to speak at the Baccalaureate Mass to the graduates, their families and my classmates, which was all the more special because my granddaughter, Briahn, was among the graduating seniors.
Since I was speaking on behalf of my classmates, I asked the guys what they wanted me to share with the young men and women who were preparing to set out on their life journeys as we had done 50 years earlier.
When we were students, Saint Mary’s was a very different place. For one, there were young women in the Class of 2015 while ours was an all boys high school.
Following Mass, some Golden alums commented about new grads who weren’t following along with the recitations or receiving Communion. It’s likely those students weren’t Catholic, while almost all our classmates were and had attended Catholic grammar schools.
We were also struck by the remarkable diversity of the class and how comfortable they were, not only with their peers of different races and ethnicities, but also with students I know to be of differing sexual and religious orientations.
During one of our reunion meals, a classmate asked how much I thought race had been an issue for us. We concluded that in those early days of the Civil Rights movement, many kids brought their parents’ prejudices to school with them, much as young people do today. We learned that our separations had been more than racial: a Sicilian and Costa Rican classmate, and another who was poor, shared how they had felt marginalized.
A few weeks ago, a friend of my oldest daughter visited Saint Mary’s with her daughter, a prospective student. She later recounted having almost come to tears as she watched mixed groups of students having lunch, socializing, and just being together.
We encouraged the graduates to use their educations to treat others as they want to be treated; to create communities of love, respect, and compassion and work hard for social and economic equality.
We challenged them to, “Not just talk the gospel talk, but Walk the Gospel Walk,” to have the courage to stand up against intolerance, to say NO to injustice and mean it — to be the difference.
One of my classmates observed, “Everyone is born unique, however, most people die copies.” We advised the graduates, “As you go out into the world, there are those who will try to convince you that your worth is determined by the job you have, the car you drive, or the designer labels you wear. Remember: It’s easy to make a dollar; it’s hard to make a difference.” We reminded them to live their motto: “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.”
Several years ago, Dave Curtin began bringing fellow alums together for lunch several times a year, leading another Golden Grad to ask, “Why do we feel this kinship, this connection with each other? We don’t agree on politics, on the environment, gun control, or government policies. We can’t even agree on how to barbecue when a group of us gets together!” Some of us were not close friends in high school; others didn’t really even like each other.
Another classmate replied, “It’s because of relationships that began when we were young and evolved over the years to produce a closeness that endures to this day.”
We predicted that the Class of 2015 would remember how they partied together to Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar and Sam Smith, much as we remember dancing to Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, James Brown and countless Motown stars.
Like us, they will stay in touch with some classmates and come together for reunions.
Then, one day — before they know it — they will gather with the Class of 2065 to march alongside them as Golden Grads as we marched with them. On that day, we asked them to bring greetings and congratulations from the Class of 1965; a group of men they never knew, but to whom they will be connected for all time.
We don’t leave high school behind; we take high school with us always: the friends, the experiences, the life lessons and the memories …
Tom Brown is a St. Helena resident who served as a dean at Saint Mary’s College of California for 27 years. He currently is a consultant and speaker at colleges and universities that are seeking to keep more of the students they enroll. Send comments, questions or suggestions for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.