A Tribute to the Class of 1969 for Their 50th Anniversary Celebration
(The individuals honored in this tribute were present at the 2019 McCaskey Graduation)
On the first page of the 1969 McCaskey Echo, a unique title for the yearbook is given: “The Worlds of Todays Youth.” Notice it’s the plural: Worlds. As you turn to page 2, you arrive at some of the first color photos ever published in a McCaskey yearbook. The 1969 Echo seems to be a great symbol of a time when people were starting to see things differently and discover different “worlds” in their midst.
During your Junior High years, Bob Dylan sang: “The Times They Are A-Changing.” The Folk Rock Group the Byrds sang, “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season!” By your senior year at McCaskey, these words had steadily proven true: America inaugurated a new president in 1969. And it said goodbye to another in more ways than one, as it witnessed the death of President Eisenhower. The Beatles gave their last public performance on a rooftop, which resulted in a call to the police. And the very last edition of the Saturday Evening Post was printed.
These changes were less consequential than the ones you had already lived through. During your junior year alone, the Vietnam War reached its height; The previous President of the United States dramatically announced that he would not seek re-election; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. And the country witnessed the assassination of a young Senator, before many had made peace with the assassination of his brother, a young President, just 4 ½ years prior.
Though we tend to assign darkness to this period, it is positively out-shined by an immense, bright light in the heroism of our Vietnam Veterans, some of whom, sadly, did not make it home to Lancaster. James Edward Miller from the Class of 1969 was one of them. To those who did make it home, including Rick Schneider, who is with us tonight, you, along with your friends who made the ultimate sacrifice, have always made us McCaskey Proud.
It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one at McCaskey, too. The man who had authored the words to McCaskey’s Alma Mater, Jim Neely, retired in 1969 after 35 years of service as faculty manager, coach, and teacher. Incidentally, his daughter Marian Neely Mowrer, Class of 1959, now serves on our board. And McCaskey, like many other places, experienced unrest following the assassination of Dr. King. You were a generation with strong opinions, who fought for the right to vote, a wish that would soon be granted to 18-year-olds thanks to efforts like yours.
There is page after page of poetry in your yearbook. Perhaps this is because the times you were living in were times of such profound change that only poetry had any hope of capturing them.
It was this same eloquence that caught the attention of the national publication, Youth Magazine, which collaborated with McCaskey students during your senior year to produce an entire edition devoted to your poetry and points of view relative to the troubling issues of the day. The June 15, 1969 edition of Youth has a photo of McCaskey High School on the cover, with the title, “What Time Is It? On the very first page of this magazine, there is a quote from one Pamela McFerren. She seems to be echoing the words written in Ecclesiastes and sung by the Byrds: “To everything There is a season and a time to every purpose.” Pamela is quoted as saying: “I feel that it is time to live—make the most of one’s opportunities and develop one’s self to the fullest possible extent.”
This iron will to live and to develop yourselves to your fullest possible extent, to make your own individual words beautiful, no matter what was happening in the world you all shared, seems to be a defining characteristic of your class. You insisted on having the fullest high school experience possible, and in this way you share much in common with the Class of 2019 and the rest of the 80 plus classes that have now graduated from this high school.
Attending dances, for instance. This is something many of you experienced on Saturday nights at Y-Teens, the downstairs dances at the YWCA. Many other of your activities are recorded in the yearbook, courtesy of a staff that had won the first place award in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s yearbook competition. Its editors included: Cynthia Schmuckle, Christine Sachs and, in addition to Pamela, who I already mentioned, its staff included Annette Bricker. Meanwhile Scott Sheely told the story of the school as it unfolded as the sports editor of the Vidette newspaper. Cathy Lee Dunn worked on the Vidette staff as well, under the advisorship of the dearly departed Dennis Schmid, in whose name the McCaskey Alumni Association still awards a scholarship each year to a student going to college for journalism.
Strong young people from the City of Lancaster, with names like Cynthia Herr, Sue Clark, Michael Nessinger, Janet Guffenberg, Dawn Porter, Debra Baker, Thomas Usciak, and Tim White spent the 1968-1969 school year developing themselves to their fullest potential as students in one of the finest general education curricula one could ask for. Meanwhile, other students including Susan Summers, a member of Future Business Leaders of America, and Joe Labezius entered the vocational track.
Students like Bradley Igou and Georgette Good worked on plays and musicals. “Cyrano De Bergerac” was the Fall Play and “Lil Abner” was the Spring musical. And there were those who helped on the play committee like Lois Bowen. Some of these same students participated in the Glee Club with Roberta Peitzman and Vicki Frailey. And some experienced the one-of-a-kind Don Trostle and his Organized Confusion in Marching Band, with musicians Jolene DeMorra, Robert Smith and Marty Hurst. Sherry Millhouse and Jacquie Rebman were the majorettes that accompanied the band at important sporting events.
And there was no shortage of athletes: Nelson Polite was on the football team and he also played basketball with Stephen Rogers who was a baseball player and a gymnast. David Byrne was a wrestler, and Dennis Unangst did some wresting, too. Carol Maurer and others of you already mentioned were part of the Dolphin Club, a group of 50 young women, excellent swimmers, who put on a circus-themed water show at F&M. Meanwhile, Wayne Beaner, Jean Gallagher, Harvey Harple, Eileen McKonley, Kathleen McKonly, Timothy Jones, Barbara Lutz, Carolyn Patterson, and Goldie Randle all took part in the athletic intramurals.
Like Neil Armstrong, who, that summer, would take one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind onto an unfamiliar new world—in spite of an atmosphere that was not necessarily conducive to a full life, you suited up, took a step forward, and got busy living.
Regardless of what our insecurities tell us (insecurities that can keep us away from class reunions altogether) each one of you lived fully at McCaskey, and have continued to live fully ever since. Your presence here tonight is proof of that. Whatever we see as the headlines in our shared world, your own individuals worlds have no doubt seen all the joy and hardship that 50 years can hold. And your defiant leaps forward have brought you to this night of your 50th Anniversary Graduation Celebration. On behalf of the McCaskey Alumni Association, congratulations on 50 years!
There is one more 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 join our fellowship of more than 40,000 graduates. The Class of 2019 has a lot in common with you. Not least because they are listening to the same music that your generation gave them.
McCaskey’s current students are a celebration of many different worlds, a celebration your generation began. Among them, there are 39 different languages spoken. Like you, the Class of 2019 has gone to high school during a period when the stories of the world have been unusually urgent, and they have refused to let it stop them from living. Your presence tonight means more to them than you currently understand. You will understand– As each of you takes one small step through the doorway of the Lancaster Convention Center auditorium, it will be one giant leap into something bigger than any one person. I promise you, it will be out of this world. Thank you for coming home to share this very special experience with us.