For someone who does not like math, I am oddly obsessive about numbers. I find myself in the second week of May 2016, thinking about last May, thinking about May thirty years ago and even thinking about May sixty years ago, years before I was even born. Math has patterns and so does life. While I’m not “good” at math, I am good at finding the patterns in life that others often miss.
In May of 1986 I was 22. On May 23rd of that year I graduated from St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud Minnesota. I was at an age directly between the ages that my own children are right now. Last year in May, my daughter who is now 23 graduated from Bemidji State University. Next weekend I will go help my 21 year old son move home from Carthage College for the summer, it’s the end of his junior year.
I have such vivid memories of those final weeks of college, not the kind of memories that exist because they were posted to a social media account but actual clear recollections. I also have photographs, again not something that was documented with my phone but with a real camera. Back in the day our phones were attached to the wall and the idea of them having a camera was pretty preposterous. I did however receive a phone as a graduation present from my brothers. It was a very modern model that had an answering machine that recorded messages for you if you were not physically present to answer it. It was 1986 and none of my friends owned an answering machine. My parents also gifted me with a piece of technology. I had majored in Mass Communications (with a Television emphasis) so my folks gave me a video camera a month before commencement, so I could document aspects of my final days on campus.
Somewhere in my possession is a collection of nearly obsolete VHS cassette tapes recorded with my graduation gift. I must say there are some epic gems; my girlfriends and I returning home from an evening at the bars, morning recordings recapping events of the prior night, comedy sketches of mock interviews and my personal favorite. The one I need to track down consists of a series of interviews with me and two of my friends that I’d worked with as Resident Assistants (RA’s) the year before. The vignettes are taken after dinner in the dining hall and recorded in front of the thirteen-story residence hall they worked in and that I’d called home for three years. It’s a video time capsule of the price of gas, the cost of a delivered pizza, cover charges at various watering holes we frequented more often than the library (or laundry room). I recollect my favorite parts, despite not having viewed them for many years. We were asking each other what our plans were following graduation. My girlfriends thought they might move to Mexico and my response was “I’m going as far as the Nova will take me. I’ll be settling somewhere in the Monticello region.” Those not familiar with Minnesota geography, St. Cloud and Monticello are about 25 miles apart. Those not familiar with my Nova, lets just say it was a really used car!
Most people don’t have VCR’s in their homes anymore, though most remember video (and eventually DVD) rentals. What some may have forgotten (or never known) is that in the mid to late ‘eighties most people didn’t own a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) to play tapes on, they actually rented the machine when they rented movies. It’s a technology that had a twenty-five year arc. Nobody saw that coming. Most folks with a TV now have the capacity to watch whatever whenever and the ability to access movies by simply using a remote control. As someone who can be easily distracted, I am glad I graduated when I did without these additional tech temptations.
I was not media-free, it was after all my major. It was just different then. One had to plan. I watched Luke marry Laura on General Hospital with every other freshman girl in Holes Hall. The next year I witnessed the M*A*S*H finale in a packed dorm room. The last two years I was in college most RA’s would not plan activities on Thursday nights. Nobody wanted to compete with the new hit series The Cosby Show. There was no rewind, on-demand or purchasing of the series for personal viewing. You either skipped class, used the bathroom during commercials or had to have a friend tell you about it. There was no Google, no internet. Granted, most of us had parents who grew up in homes that had no television, we were the first generation who grew up on After School Specials. Much has changed and I actually miss dozing off during a late evening show and waking to a televised waving flag and National Anthem as the station “signed-off” for the night and a “test pattern” took over the screen until Sunrise Semester or some early news show came on. Now we can watch TV on our phone, catch news in a continuous cycle and be in constant contact with people we really don’t know and perhaps don’t even like.
There is no way looking forward thirty years to ever predict what will occur, what new inventions will exist, what will become passe. My friends did not move to Mexico, though they did spend a summer working together at a camp in Malibu. The three of us did take a Mexican spring break together a few years out of college. I made it the 70 miles back to my folks house with the Nova, then shattered my elbow the following month and moved to my new job in Missouri without the Nova, eventually buying a Ford Escort. Basically, I broke down before the Nova did. Luke Spencer made his final departure from General Hospital last July and if you aren’t aware of what is going on with the affable gentleman who brought us Dr. Huxtable then you are actually lucky. I’ll simply say it’s been widely suggested that despite being affable he is no gentleman.
While it seems there is much to gain looking forward, I would suggest that there is great potential to benefit from looking back. I imagine that my college graduation and the thirty years since would not have occurred were it not for an event that took place in May 1956, thirty years prior to me receiving my diploma. In retrospect, I don’t think I even realized in May of 1986 that in thirty years (and four days) of marriage my parents had raised three children and watched them all graduate from St. Cloud State. Their anniversary was not to be the focal point for them that week. They wanted it to be all about me, their baby girl graduating from college. Thirty years after graduating from college and I still have a lot to learn!