A Hazy Shade of Winter
Time, time, time
See what's become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities
. . . . .
Hang onto your hopes my friend
That's an easy thing to say
But if your hopes should pass away
That you can build them again
(Paul Simon’s Hazy Shade of Winter:
Originally released October 1966 as a single,
then included on the 1968 Bookends album)
In the fall of 1967 I arrived in New Haven, Connecticut as a member of Yale’s Class of 1971. Yale, at the time, was still an all-male institution and was an eye-opening New World for me. Coming from a large comprehensive high school, I never knew people from prep-schools (I knew two Bay Shore guys who had gone off to Loomis and Choate, respectively, but it never really registered as to what that meant). My class was the first to actually have admitted more public school graduates than “preppies ” --- part of Yale President Kingman Brewster’s plan (along with Admissions Director Inslee Clark) to change the University from a “finishing school for prep-school boys” to a diverse, internationally prominent “world-class” university (see Geoffrey Kabaservice’s The Guardians for a detailed account).
What I discovered was that my prep-school peers had already learned about living away from home, signing up for classes, getting to the bookstore, and all the other aspects of leading an “academic life” away from home. Those first few weeks are a hazy memory now, as my classmates (which now include women --- we were Yale’s first co-educated class, another aspect of the Brewster/Clark plan) and I are filling out surveys and biographical information in preparation for our 50th Reunion in New Haven next June (pandemic notwithstanding, of course). Thinking about that reunion, I remember that, no matter where you went to high school/prep school, we all shared a very important common memory when we arrived in New Haven in September 1967: November 22, 1963. We had all lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy and it was a touchstone for us: “Where were you when you heard about it?” That shared memory then led to other exchanges, stories about what high school was like, how you ended up at Yale, what your interests were, etc. Thinking about that, I began to consider what it will be like when the Lovely Carol Marie’s oldest grandson, Cody Baker, goes off to college in the fall of 2024 --- where he and his classmates will share their “tales of the pandemic” as part of their freshman-bonding experience.
Thinking back to the Kennedy assassination as a jumping off point, I believe it was the first in a series of events that began to shake my generation’s belief in the stability of long-standing institutions. With the Vietnam War escalating over our remaining years in high school and the assassinations of MLK and RFK during our freshman year in college, the call to action, to resistance, to change was inevitable. There was a sense that we had been sold a false bill of goods (“The American Dream,” the white picket fence, the “All Men are Created Equal” mythology) and the reaction was explosive. The political upheaval led to aftershocks we are still dealing with (when you consider how the Reagan-led Republican Party based its philosophical core on “un-doing” the legacy of the Sixties, Trump’s attempts to reverse the Obama years seems a logical extension of that Party’s evolution). Again, as I considered how all of what occurred over the years between when I started high school and when I graduated from college (1963-1971), I realized how much those years/events contributed to the adult I became and the life I lived.
I’m wondering what this pandemic’s effect will be on Cody Baker and his generation. Thinking about starting high school in the fall of 2020 and graduating from college in 2028, what will history hold in store for these young people? What we already know is that the College class of 2028 will arrive (hopefully)on campus in the fall of 2024 with their unique “tales of the pandemic.” My hope is that it will not be a deep scar but, rather, an extended “moment” of shared stories and experiences that will serve to bond the Class of ’28 in ways that are as unique as the assassinations and Vietnam War shaped the Class of 1971. Other than both situations being “notable” events from the long-range historian’s point-of-view, I think this pandemic will take a significant toll on these young people and can only hope that they will demonstrate the energy and resilience we have seen in past generations faced with pandemics, Depressions, and World Wars. Unlike my Class, where the JFK assassination was a uniquely American event, the Class of 2028 will find that all its members, no matter where on Earth they hail from, will have lived through this pandemic to greater and lesser degrees. What might that mean?
Thinking about what more months of “remote learning” might mean for our nation’s 14 year-olds (as well as all our other schoolchildren, of course) is a daunting task. Having been a high school teacher for over 40 years, I often told “civilians” all that people really remember from high school are the social and athletic events --- proms, football games, drama and music productions, etc. If you ask someone what they remember from high school, it is highly unlikely they will ever say, “Oh, man, my sophomore year Geometry Class was amazing!” or “I’ll never forget 11th grade AP U.S. History!” What is the Class of 2028 going to remember about their freshman year --- and what will the long-term effects of that be? We’ve already watched one class go through “virtual” proms and graduations (and it ain’t pretty) --- illustrating how people will try to make the best of a bad situation --- but what will this mean to those kids, like Cody Baker, who were hoping to go to their new school and make some new friends, meet some new (and, hopefully, inspiring) teachers, play on school or intramural sports teams, participate in Band or Orchestra or the Drama or Musical Productions?
Kids are wonderfully resilient but this challenge will surely test the mettle of all of us. How do we, the caring adults in the community, buoy these young people? This pandemic is tough on everyone but, sitting here as a retired 71 year-old, my life has not been radically altered --- I miss seeing friends, going out to dinner or the Diner, and heading into New York City for live theater or music productions --- but none of that compares to losing those first few months of Freshman Year in high school! Recognizing that high school is not always the greatest experience for every student, and recognizing that, in retrospect, very few of us remember much about high school (who clearly remembers their high school graduation?), I still can’t help but feel that this Pandemic will be more than a “simple” story these students will share with their new classmates during Freshman orientation in 2024. It is not natural for young people to be isolated for this long (we are seeing how there is a “cavalier” indifference to warnings about face masks, congregating, etc. by teens and people in their 20’s) --- there is a natural inclination to socialize, to take risks, to “test” things. But this virus is unforgiving and, in good conscience, we cannot and should not allow our young people to put themselves in dangerous situations (like schools and classrooms). Nonetheless, we can never anticipate the unintended consequences of any decision we make and we will only know, as the years go on, what the long-term impact of this pandemic will be on those young people who are starting high school this year. I would only advise that we try to be as understanding and supportive as we can be while simultaneously doing all we can to keep them safe.
Thanks for reading. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.