50 Years Ago Today, High School Graduation, Westbury, New York
SALUTATORIAN ADDRESS * Susan Joan Fishbein * Class of 1968, Westbury High School Forty-seventh Annual Graduation Exercises, Thursday, June 20, 1968, 6:00 p.m., Thomas J. Fitzgerald Athletic Field
50 years ago today, as some of you recall, the Westbury High School Class of 1968 graduated, and I was fortunate to deliver the salutatorian address. In light of the world of 2018, the attached is a poignant reminder of the world we inhabited back then. I felt compelled to share it with you today. Wishing you love and peace, Susan
Dr. Rice, Mr. Kickham, esteemed members of the clergy, distinguished members of the board, most respected members of the faculty, honored parents and friends of the Class of 1968, and fellow students. I stand before you today with a sense of accomplishment and pride upon having reached this point in my life. I am sure that this class agrees that the four years we spent in high school were gratifying, instructive, and memorable. These years have added immeasurably to the maturation process we all must experience. I know we feel indebted to our hard-working and dedicated faculty members. Their guidance and instruction, as well as their friendship, are some of the intangibles that have become a part of us and will not readily be forgotten.
And yet, at this culminating point, as we close this chapter in our lives and pause to reflect, it is not enough to feel the relief and joy of a job well done. It is not enough to sit back in our seats as we are doing today and grin and say, “Gee, we finally made it.” This is only the joy this moment brings. But the sense of responsibility to ourselves and to our nation is the overwhelming feeling that should strike us tomorrow when this ceremony is over. Perhaps you have felt it already. For in this time of upheaval and rapid change, the youth of America, and the youth of Westbury as well, are playing more of a vital role in our society than ever before. Half of the population of the United States is under the age of twenty-five. This is a grim and startling fact to the members of the older generation. They feel today that the youth of America have gained too much power – that they are running the country and effecting a grand revolution in society. Yes, they are, or rather I should say, yes, we are. But with this strength afforded us, because we are half the population of our country, comes the duty to place controls on this power and to use it wisely. There is an old quotation that says: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Napoleon and Hitler were notorious men of history who attained a high status because they had power. They, however, used this power ruthlessly, and manifested a crazed sense of egotism and a belief in a superman of the world. They effected vast ruin and destruction, and innumerable deaths. But how many deaths will it take ‘til we know that too many people have died?
The national scene, as well as the world scene, has affected some of us personally. While in our career in high school, some of us have taken political sides, dealt with racial questions, and fought a war against a war in Vietnam. Two great leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, untiringly working for the cause of civil rights, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, vigorously campaigning for a better America, have been felled in our senior year alone, and we have taken on personal grief. Yet, while this pattern of violence and upheaval is worldwide, it has zeroed in on Westbury this year. A cross-section of all the bacteria in the world was placed under the microscope and we focused on Westbury. The students and the administration examined the infection and to the best of their ability tried to find the antidote. This year, Westbury became a microcosm-macrocosm. Our school displayed concern with control, and thereby effected change. And no one person took it upon himself to conquer the situation. We saw and were involved in a group effort to cure any ills we might have encountered. We must commend ourselves on this accomplishment.
Thus, The Class of 1968 has tasted one of the problems that plagues our nation, and we will go on to taste the rest. But how can one savor this bitterness. The flavor is not a pleasant one. It cannot be said, however, that the United States is one bad meal, or the world, for that matter. We must confine our criticism. In a beautifully prepared barbecue, if only the corn is burnt, we cannot say that the steak and salad are poor, as well. It must be realized, too, that the goal of the American people is not only to save a nation, but to save humanity.
It goes without saying that the world today is more complex than ever before. This complexity seems almost to be multiplying at a geometric rate. Advanced technology and increased and thriving materialism may all be well and good, and we realize the potential of the human being to create and improve. Americans are saving more lives, growing richer, and making life easier. But are we happier – are we satisfied with material gain?: ah! there’s the rub. For in that gain what dreams may we think of and hope for next.
So, in seeming improvement, are we moving towards self-destruction? Are we moving in the right direction? Do we in the United States know when and where to stop? Of course, science and technology cannot regress. But here in this country we have the symptoms of a too complex world. We crave for peace, so we riot. We yearn for education, so we sit in. We strive for democracy, so we discriminate. Preaching love and peace and democracy is not the cure, for many do not listen and do not believe. Some are calling now for a return to nature, but the 21st century cannot take a permanent respite at Walden Pond. Nor can one ignore the world and return to the cave to solve its ills. What this country, and what this world needs, is a return, not to nature, but to humanity, and therefore communication among men. This can only be done in a group effort through education in order to further understanding between peoples, races, and nations. Yes, humanity has a toothache and has not learned her lesson, as most of this class saw in Eugene Ionesco’s one-act play.
Moreover, the answer is not to remove guns, but to cure the disease which sets man against man, and nation against nation. This must be the unified effort of our country, and it lies in making new laws and enforcing them, and having people fully understand, accept, and abide by them. We must seek out superior leadership to handle the times, for “they are a’changing.” Maybe “a hard rain’s a gonna fall,” but maybe this rain will dissolve evil and expiate our sins. We must work for and create a world and climate where our children may never know the violence and terror of today. It is to this goal that the Class of 1968 must now commit themselves, and it is with this in mind that I come before you today, not only to open this ceremony, but to open your eyes to the paramount task that lies ahead of us. We must catch the answer that “is blowing in the wind.” I wish us all success!
Photo from Deposit Photos