Comparing and Contrasting the Classes of ’79 and ’13

First published July 2, 2013 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

My youngest daughter just graduated from high school. I graduated from my high school a third of a century ago. The things you read about every day here at MediaPost have made the world a much different place for her than it was for me.

Or have they?

I was actually struck these past few months with how her grad experience didn’t seem all that much different than mine. The biggest difference, it seemed, was in how she connected with her friends. But the “why” – the topics of those connections – seems very familiar.

She is graduating from a small school, with a grad class of just over 50. I graduated from a small-town high school in Alberta in a class of 70. Like me, she has gone to school with most of her class from kindergarten right through to grade 12 – so the social dynamics in both cases were fairly tightly woven.

Both classes, the class of ‘13 and the class of ’79, were under the temporary euphoria of youthful confidence. All things seem possible when you’re 18. The world is not a grinding gristmill of monthly mortgage payments, day-to-day job-related drudgery, vague yet persistent aches and pains and innumerable other nagging details that suck the life out of you. It’s a lion waiting to be tamed, a journey begging to be taken or an adventure still to be had. Is there any more optimistic time in your life than graduation? I wish that it could last forever, but I know better.

Both classes had their inevitable run-ins with authority that seemed unreasonable and inflexible. In both cases, said “run-ins” arose from social “traditions” that ran afoul of scheduled class time. Both times, the phrases “can’t condone” and “set a precedent” was used a lot by the school administration. Of course, such nuances don’t mean much to you when you’re 18. “Party” is a word with much more meaning.

Speaking of parties, both classes had their share. The biggest difference between ’79 and ’13 was in how word of these parties propagated through the grad social network. In 1979, “viral” meant hanging out at the main intersection of town (I told you I grew up in a small town) waiting for familiar trucks (I told you I grew up in Alberta) to go by, so you could ask where the party was. Today’s approach seems much more efficient.

Style also played a major role in both events. In many cases, it’s our first experience with formal wear, which means a lot of time is devoted to dress and/or suit shopping. My daughter has been wearing high heels in the house for the past week, hoping to master the trick of locomotion without severe injury. Of course, in my case it was a very stylish dark brown velvet tuxedo with matching bowtie. Hey, it was ’79, and my fashion influences were “The Love Boat” and Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company.” Cut me some slack! There were people who went in blue jeans (remember – rural Alberta).

Another major theme was, and is, “Who’s going with who (sic)” to graduation. For those of us who were less precocious in our experience with the opposite sex, a lot of pressure came with graduation. We had to get a date, or be labeled as “the guy who went stag.” This meant you had a lot of socially inept teenagers going through the trauma of a first date at the same time, in the same place. All the technology in the world can’t improve person-to-person communication in this scenario.

It seems to me that though the way the class of ’13 negotiated through their grad experience may have changed since 1979, the actual things that make up that experience seem remarkably familiar. It’s still about transition: whether it be in relationships, opportunities, routines or responsibility.  It’s that awesome experience of sitting on the cusp, when all things seem possible. It’s believing that you own the world – and that  the world is an essentially good place. Whether you express that on Facebook, Instagram or while leaning on the side of a Chevy pick-up at the “Four Corners” in Sundre, Alberta — the “how” may have changed, but the “why” has remained the same.

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