Dave Barry

Classic '95: The generation gap

BY DAVE BARRY

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, June 4, 1995

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS TO THE HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1995:

I am especially pleased to be addressing you, the Class of 1995, because it just so happens that I graduated from Pleasantville (N.Y.) High School in 1965, which is exactly 30 million years ago.

A lot has changed since 1965, young people. For example, in those days, most schools did not have modern technology such as the Xerox brand copier machine. When teachers wanted to give us a test, they'd run it off on a "mimeograph" machine, which was a device originally developed by spies for the purpose of smearing ink so thoroughly that enemy codebreakers would never figure out what the original words were. The teachers would hand us students a piece of paper with questions that consisted mostly of purple smears, with the occasional word sprinkled in, like this:

"1. Assuming that (smear) and (smear) (smear) Renaissance (smear), helium (smear) Treaty of (smear) (smear) (smear) cosine. Cite three examples."

We'd ponder the question, then generally we'd write down: "The Tigris and Euphrates rivers." Surprisingly often this turned out to be the correct answer, even in algebra.

Also, back in those days some schools still had real desks. You young people today have always had to write on those pathetic little kidney-shaped slabs, but we in the Class of '65 grew up with solid wooden structures roomy enough to house Third World families and covered with the initials of students dating back to the original 12 disciples. Students traditionally carved these initials with a device called a "compass," which every student was required, for some mysterious scholastic reason, to buy (along with a "protractor"), and which seemed to have no practical purpose other than to carve initials into desks. One of the highlights of starting a new school year was when you and your friends conducted archaeological-style examinations of your desks to see who the previous occupants were. ("Hey! I got Nathan Horsewinkle's old desk! I recognize his gum!")

The best feature of these desks was that they had hinged tops, so that in critical classroom situations you could hide your head inside. We'd be sitting in class, and the teacher would be writing on the blackboard, imparting some fascinating and  vital piece of information such as how many acute angles there are in an isosceles triangle (Correct answer: the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), and in the back of the room a student such as Walter Gorski would stick his hand under his shirt and make a noise by forming an acute angle with his armpit, and the rest of us, rendered helpless by the almost unbearable humor of the situation, would quickly raise our desktops and duck our heads inside, ostrich-like, and the teacher would whirl around to face  a roomful of vibrating bodies with desks for heads, emitting the kind of wet snorting sounds normally associated with severely congested horses.

Yes, we members of the Class of '65 sometimes "acted up," but in the end we "toed the line," because back in those days, American society was different. It had a quality that you simply do not see today -- a quality that I would define, for lack  of a better term, as "Anthony Sabella." Mr. Sabella was the assistant principal at Pleasantville High. He was a stocky, stern-faced individual, approximately the width of Kansas, who had more authority than the U.S. Supreme Court, in the sense that if  you were a male student who came to school wearing really tight pants, the U.S. Supreme Court was not empowered to explain the Pleasantville High Dress Code to you while holding you completely off the ground by your neck, whereas Mr. Sabella was. Many  times over the years I have wondered what the news headlines would have been like if this nation, instead of using other means to handle international problems, had used Mr. Sabella.

SADDAM SURRENDERS, IS WHACKED WITH RULER

At this juncture I'm sure the question that is on the minds of you young people is: "You wore tight pants?"

Yes, we did. We were not like you young males today, walking around in giant pants that are structurally identical to a Sears brand four-person mountain tent with pockets. Back in 1965 we preferred extremely tight pants, the kind that you never put your hands in the pockets of, because you'd never get them back out. We did not wear those pants because of some trivial passing "fad": We wore them because the Beatles wore them.

We idolized the Beatles, except for those of us who idolized the Rolling Stones, who in those days still had many of their original teeth. We argued passionately about which band was better, Beatles vs. Stones, because we cared about the issues.  It's not like you young people today, listening passively, in your giant pants, to bands such as -- I understand that this is an actual band -- "Big Head Todd." What kind of name is THAT, young people? Back in our day, bands had names that STOOD for something, such as "Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs." You heard that name, and you knew instantly that this was a band with more than one dimension: A Sam the Sham dimension, and a Pharaohs dimension. When this band sang, the Class of '65 sang right along, with genuine feeling: "Wooly BULLLLY, Wooly Bully; Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully, Wooly Bully." Call us idealistic, but those words MEANT something to us back in 1965, and I can still hear them ringing in my head today, even when I double my sedative  dosage. Young people, these are words that speak across the generations from my class to yours, the Class of 1995, and that is why, as you prepare to remove your rental gowns and go out into the world, I want to end my speech by asking you to remember  one very, very, very important thing, but I forget what. Thank you; good luck; and somebody should wipe up this drool.

© 1995 Dave Barry This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.

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