Sea Change

An Address Given by Alumni Coordinator Jeremiah Miller ’00 to the Class of 1968, prior to the tribute they were given at the 2018 Graduation Ceremony:

Good evening.

On page 6 of the 1968 McCaskey Echo, it is written, “Our days at John Piersol McCaskey High School are filled with the struggles and accomplishments that help to mold our characters. We must discover within ourselves what we hope to achieve . . . Symbolizing this difficult task with the sea, we find ourselves fighting the current or riding with the tide.”

Like all education, your time at McCaskey had its joys. Joys like the high school musical “Finian’s Rainbow.” Like one of your classmates winning a state championship in track. Like the sketch comedy show you produced at the end of the year, modeled on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.” You called it “McCaskey’s Class-in.” Performers rode tricycles around the stage, crashing into one another, as a spoof of Driver’s Ed with Mr. Haller. I’m sure each of you can conjure your own McCaskey memory that brings a smile.

Education is incomplete without difficulties—without those times when we are “fighting the tide.” The tide showed up for your group in the form of John Harris and that devastating 80-0 loss.

“Because we are creatures of the land,” it says on page 6, “we find within ourselves an irresistible urge toward the sea. Our attraction to this powerful element is the human need to know, to explore, and to pit our ingenuity against this difficult environment.”

And a difficult environment it was in 1968. It was a time of social unrest at home and abroad.

The Vietnam War had reached its height.

A president of the United States announced that he would not seek re-election.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

Then the country witnessed the assassination of a young Senator, without ever having made peace with the assassination of his brother, a young President, just 4 ½ years prior.

Though we tend to assign darkness to 1968, it is positively outshined by an immense, bright light in the heroism of our Vietnam Veterans, including those from this class, some of whom, sadly, did not make it home to Lancaster. To those who did, including three gentlemen here tonight, Ken Keener, Ron Horn, and Ricky Burk, you, along with your friends who made the ultimate sacrifice, have always made us McCaskey Proud.

I graduated from McCaskey in the year 2000 when the thing we were most concerned with was a discredited theory that there was going to be a power outage at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was a very low tide. But the ocean of history has moments like 1968. And though they witness the conversation violently churn and arguments hit hard like waves on the seashore, they urge generations like yours into the human need to know, to explore, and to pit one’s ingenuity against the difficult environment. It makes no difference whether you fought the current or rode with the tide. You became strong individuals with conviction.

At the end of your yearbook, it says, “Now the tide changes abruptly from the accumulation of knowledge to the application of it. Ahead of us stretches the immense, turbulent challenge of life similar to the challenge of the sea.”

At the 10-year reunion for the Class of 2008 last month, after I congratulated them on ten years, I continued my speech by asking myself aloud, Why congratulate class members on the amount of time that has passed since they picked up their diplomas?

10 years is a lot of time. In 10 years we all experience our fair share of ups and downs. And, contrary to what our insecurities may communicate to us (insecurities that can keep us away from reunions altogether) if we are present, we are better for all of those experiences, good and bad alike.

Class of 1968, 50 years after your graduation, you have experienced all of the joy and hardship that five decades can hold, and you have come full circle to be present here at McCaskey tonight. On behalf of the McCaskey Alumni Association, with immense joy, I proclaim to these members of the McCaskey Class of 1968, a half-century after your graduation: Welcome back to your alma mater, and congratulations!

There is another reason to congratulate you. You have not forgotten your alma mater. That Latin term means “nurturing mother.” “Alumni” means “foster children.” Your time under the reassuring roof of J.P. McCaskey High School was temporary, just three years. But you have not forgotten the “nurturing mother” you left behind and the “foster children” who tonight will walk across the stage of the Lancaster Convention Center and into “the immense, turbulent challenge of life, similar to the challenge of the sea.”

Many of you here tonight have been engaged with the next generation for some time as active participants in the Alumni Association. We have some Life Members of the Alumni Association here tonight as well as some of you who pay the $25 a year membership fee, and I thank you. Over the course of the year, you make it possible for us to serve as the historical archivist for the School District of Lancaster, while raising funds for scholarships and campus library books, and providing guidance for approximately 20 class reunions.

We do all this from the 2nd Floor of the high school, in the Alumni Center, a veritable museum of Red Tornado history, which is the site of what was your library. We dedicated the Alumni Center in 1997, around the time that this school underwent its second renovation. Its first renovation occurred about five years after you graduated. That included the addition of our current cafeteria, right around the corner, and our gymnasium. It was always hard for my generation to imagine sporting events in the auditorium!

Another renovation of this school occurred in 1997, which included the addition of this library that you are now sitting in. Most importantly, that era gave birth to another building on the McCaskey Campus, known as McCaskey East. Today, many students have classes in both buildings and they commute back and forth, like one would on a college campus.

Sitting here in this library, which you have no memory of, it may seem that this high school has undergone a sea change. But if you go into other areas, like the beautiful Art Deco lobby, you may have an awe-inspiring sense that no time has passed.

I think you will acutely experience this same awe tonight at approximately 8 PM. Those of us who have witnessed this event before know that something special happens at that hour on graduation night. It might happen with unique power between the classes of 2018 and 1968. I think it’s fair to say that these new graduates have had things to grapple with a bit more real than Y2K. They have seen the conversation violently churn and arguments hit hard like waves on the seashore, urging them into the human need to know, to explore, and to pit one’s ingenuity against the difficult environment. They have gained strength and conviction. Not to mention, they are still listening to and loving the same music that your generation gave them.

In any event, just after you hear the words, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the McCaskey Class of 1968,” you will experience the overwhelming realization that time does not truly separate one generation from another, that we are deeply connected by the universal experience of fighting the current and riding with the tide of the very same ocean.

Thank you for sharing this moment with us tonight.

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