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Past experiences provide future comfort

Date: 6/12/2012

June 11, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

1972 is more than just 40 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago.

About this time 40 years ago I was sitting outside of Granby Junior/Senior High School in my cap and gown with the other 107 members of the class of 1972.

I would like to say that the words of our speaker made a lasting impression, but I would be fibbing. Instead, I remember our speaker's entrance.

Our graduation speaker was the late Congressman Silvio Conte, a Republican that Republicans and Democrats both loved. He was scheduled to speak, but due to a tight arrival at Bradley, it appeared he wouldn't make it in time.

Our assistant high school principal, David Hyatt, was detailed to fetch the congressman and bring him to the graduation.

Hyatt was a fascinating guy. He was an educator, but also a professional actor who had appeared in soap operas and national commercials. He had a flair for the dramatic, which came naturally.

The school administrators wisely decided to move forward with the ceremony even though we were without our guest of honor. I apologize for not remembering which students spoke I have an idea and I'm sure they were fine.

My memory is, that toward the end of the proceedings, Hyatt came speeding onto the front lawn, cutting across the grass with, I'm sure, a very startled member of Congress. Hyatt drove some huge convertible, so we could see Conte in the front seat with him.

Conte did give a speech, but time has not been kind to the memory of what he said.

I can't remember if there were any dropouts in our small class. I grew up at a time when a high school education could lead to a decent job, when area manufacturing firms still needed untrained labor. Those companies provided a place for many people to begin their adult lives.

In 1972, The Vietnam War still raged. Like all 18 year-olds were required, I carried my draft card in my wallet. My dad had retired from a 26-year career in the Air Force in 1968. His last assignment was in Vietnam. The idea that I would also go was something about which I thought a lot.

I'm sure that some people would assume that back in the early 1970s in a small town such as Granby, my class was immune from the social issues of the day. There were stoners though in the class and at least one of my classmates became pregnant.

The era of the counter-culture crept a little into our school. Guys wore their hair long, a subject that led to heated words in my house between my dad and myself. I parted my hair to the side and the subsequent wing looked like the front of an aircraft carrier.

I remember one of my classmates being sent home by the principal for wearing a pair of very loud floral pattern pants. They had crossed an invisible line set by the administration.

There was a copy of the "East Village Other," an underground newspaper from New York City that was passed around the locker room one day with ads for various items that set our youthful minds ablaze.

If we wanted a real "hippie" experience, though, a road trip to Amherst was in order. My friends and I were more inclined to go to Eastfield Mall and eat ice cream at McCory's five and dime, and then check out all the latest styles at Chess King and Flagg Brothers.

That's right, we lived on the edge.

Girls wore their skirts short, but amazingly enough they still looked like high school students. Today I can't tell the age of young women seen entering or leaving a high school. They all look like they're at least 25.

To say it was a less stressful era is an understatement. There was a lack of immediacy that today I sometimes crave. The most efficient way to communicate was by telephone, but long distance calls were expensive and at least in our house they were rationed.

Springfield had two daily newspapers, we regularly could receive three television stations four when PBS started and radio stations all had local programming.

The local media reinforced a true sense of place.

There also seemed to be more time to decide what path your life could take. Today's high school students are under much pressure to come up with their plan. I don't recall anyone really worried about what I would do. My parents wanted me to be a high school teacher and I wanted to write and although there were discussions, there weren't any fights.

I can't speak for any of my classmates, but just for myself. In 1972, I had no idea how my life would go, but that ignorance didn't seem to frighten me. Now I have a better understanding of the possibilities of the rest of my life and all too often the options are certainly daunting.

Though I don't live in the past, remembering part of it is a comfort.

Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.