You wouldn’t think students who graduated 50 years ago would have too much in common with today’s high school seniors. After all, the Class of 1962 graduated in a year when John F. Kennedy promised we’d send a man to the moon, but today’s cellphones have more processing power than the Apollo computers (says Craig Nelson of PopSci). Given all that, when surveyed what each group would do if they had an extra hour of time, both overwhelmingly declared “Sleep.”
The similarities, differences and guidance of the experienced was the theme of Mt. Lebanon’s 50/50 event last week, when a group from the Class of ’62, back in town for its 50th class reunion, hunkered down with Mt. Lebanon’s Class of ’13, for roundtables, panel discussions and the release of a fascinating, recently-gleaned data package of Q&A to see where the groups could draw parallels and lines in the sand. Core organizers included: Tom Doorley III, Maria (Revesz) Humphrey, Donald Parsons, Flicka Rahn, Fred Sargent and Scudder Stevens, in cooperation with school district communications director Cissy Bowman.
“Our aim throughout is to promote mutual learning and to foster a more personal appreciation between two generations of Mt. Lebanon ‘seniors’ who would otherwise remain ignorant of one another’s gifts,” the syllabus declared.
After a kickoff with High School Principal Brian McFeeley, current high school students of all ages broke into smaller groups for roundtables with members of the Class of ’62. With names like “Gurus,” “Legal Eagles,” “Wizards” and “Transformers,” groups were organized to help students learn about jobs in their areas of interest. In the “Stars” roundtable, about 40 students met with Cliff McMillan, a California resident who has sold more than $200 million worth of corporate jets worldwide, and Flicka Rahn, a Texas professional opera singer, composer and teacher.
“I can’t impress upon you enough that things in your life are going to change,” McMillan said. He told the group it was unlikely any of them would spend an entire lifetime with one company.“Out-of-control things will likely take you off course,” he said, as he compared life to a flight to Dallas, where sometimes you end up in Dallas and sometimes you inadvertently get re-routed to New Orleans. Maybe New Orleans is where you belong or maybe you would spend your resources trying to get back to Dallas, he said.
A football player at Mt. Lebanon, McMillan went on to play football at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he changed his major three times in order to accommodate his schedule and abilities, both of which he said he first misjudged.
“Things are going to change,” he said. “Don’t be afraid…You’ll get there eventually. That’s an important thing. Do not give up.”
Rahn also changed her major. “Be able to change course in the middle of where you’re going if it doesn’t look right,” she said, reminding the students headed for show business careers to be nice and forgo talking smack about other performers because it always comes back to you. “Make sure the road behind you is nice and clean and clear. … Successful people lift the whole group around them.”
She also told them to be practical . “If you’re an artist and that’s your passion, give a little thought to, you know, rent and paying your phone bill.” An open mind is critical, she added: “I stayed open to every experience that came along.”
Both speakers told students to meet people working in the career fields that interest them to ask them questions and help think through their path.
“I really want to be a singer,” sophomore Britainy Schmid said after the session. She appreciated hearing the advice to keep going “even though you get pushed down,” with the most valuable piece of advice being to meet people doing what you want to do.
“We were talking about how it really made us think about our future and how we really need to start thinking about our future now,” said sophomore Abby Gramm. Sophomore Maddie Weber nodded in agreement and added she was surprised at the changes both speakers had endured.
After the sessions, seniors reconvened in the auditorium as KDKA-TV reporter Jon Delano moderated a panel discussion with ‘62’s Rahn, attorney Scudder Stevens, economics professor Donald Parsons and seniors Korey Smith, Sam Ballengee and Christian Horta-Kovacs. The panel discussed a survey given to members of both classes, with approximately 84 responses per question from ’62 and 274 responses per question from ’13.
After reading the results, class of ’62 graduate and 50/50 organizer Maria (Revesz) Humphrey told the younger participants “You are under tremendous pressure. We thought we worked hard. Ha.” She called her class “slackers” compared to today’s seniors.
Overall, both groups felt curriculum was the most important influence on success, but the class of ’62 felt teachers had more impact than ’13, who said friends were more influential. By far, the class of ’13 believes the choice of an occupation or career will dictate their choice of college, a feeling not particularly shared by ’62. More than two-thirds of both groups say they had an adult family member home after school, but 90 percent of ’62 had dinner with their families four or more times a week as compared to 54 percent of ’13.
’62 graduate Tom Doorley III, an entrepreneur, summarized the results, saying both groups gave answers that traced a path that includes opportunity, freedom, achievement, hard work and dreams.
Parsons noted the greater academic pressure these days but said it seems like students are doing less homework.
Stevens said he liked that both groups referenced the “American Dream” but it upset him to see that at least one Mt. Lebanon student worries about being shot, something his class would never have imagined.
For a moment it seemed as though the ’62 representatives were confused why extracurricular activities were such a source of stress but the class of ’13 explained it’s all about getting into a good school. “Kids try to do more to beef up that [college] application. We need to show you can do something more,” Ballengee said.
Horta-Kovacs said it upset him to hear of students who got perfect scores on their SATs and still didn’t get into the Ivy League school of their choice. He also said some of the pressure comes from the kids themselves rather than their parents because they want to excel. He especially wants to do well on tests. “You just want to be one of them, if not better than them,” he said of the kids who score high. “But you don’t want to be below them.”
The day wrapped up with a casual lunch in the cafeteria, where both groups were able to relax and ask questions.