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Graduates have faced challenges throughout U.S. history

Published on -5/16/2012, 10:02 AM

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Now is the time for memories -- those in the making, those of days gone by and those yet to come.

A wonderful time of graduations, weddings and even the passing of those who hold a special place in our hearts. It's a time to listen, to ask questions and to tell stories that have made us who we are before they vanish into our memory bank forever. Too many of us say we wish we had asked more questions. And now before it is too late, let us do so before the passing on of those who have great tales to share with us.

Presently, there are media events about genealogy and family history, such as Ancestry.com, which draw attention to seeking documentation of family past. But beyond the facts of place and time, there are real stories. They are treasures that can help us have a better understanding of how we and our country grew and thrived. They show us the hard work, the values and the desires of our ancestors and of those more recent immigrants. For are we not all immigrants at one time or another?

As our graduates of 2012 enter the world of work with degree in hand, they face a future that is no more uncertain and changing than it has been for many generations. The following are a few totally unrelated facts I found interesting for graduates of various years.

* For the graduate in 1902, the average life expectancy was 47 years. There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S. and only 144 miles of roads that were paved for the maximum speed limit in the cities of 10 mph.

* Those who graduated in 1912 also were in an election year. Candidate Teddy Roosevelt said, "In order to succeed, we need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to whom are granted great visions, who dream greatly and strive to make their dreams come true; who can kindle the people with the fire from their own burning souls. The leader for the time being, whoever he may be, is but an instrument."

* The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was created with the Communist Party political system in 1922. Mussolini and the Fascist party came to power in Italy, and in India, Gandhi was imprisoned by British authorities. Fifty thousand people in Louisiana were affected by floods and threat of starvation. An uncertain peace was sought after World War I.

* In 1932, graduates saw the economy deteriorate and unemployment increase further to 24.1 percent. There were few jobs, and many ordinary Americans were forced into living in the streets or in old cars. A gallon of gas cost 10 cents and a loaf of bread was seven cents. I believe the bread would take precedence.

* By 1942, the U.S. had entered the war with mobilization to war efforts and production of weapons. Graduates were headed for military service; rationing of fuel and other items was in effect on the homefront. The U.S. military began using duct tape because water ran off it.

* In 1952, the war in Korea affected many graduates although the economy was improved. The scourge of polio was affecting many families. The average worker earned $3,400 per year; a college teacher could earn $5,100 per year. Fast food restaurants gained in popularity, and gasoline cost 20 to 25 cents per gallon. A first-class stamp cost only three cents.

* In 1962, graduates watched as the Cold War continued to worsen with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Folk music was changing into protest music with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and others. In England, the Beatles were emerging with their record "Love Me Do."

* The black year in history was 1972, marked by the massacre of 11 Israel athletes and the start of the Watergate scandal. The cost of gas was 55 cents per gallon.

* In 1982, technology offered graduates more options for jobs. Electronic gadgets such as the CD player and human insulin genetically produced became available. However, a major recession still hit the United States. The cost of a gallon of gas reached 91 cents.

* Science marched on to 1992, when the nicotine patch to help smokers quit was introduced and reinforced the truth of the harm of smoking. The average life expectancy was now in the late 70s and increasing. Bill Clinton became president and gas moved onto the cost of $1.05 per gallon.

* The big story during 2002 was the continued rise of countries such as China and India resulting in an increased demand for oil, gas and other commodities and increase in the U.S. trade deficit. Tuition costs and student loans were worrisome and competition for jobs increased. Also the cost of gas continued to rise dramatically.

Now in 2012, the average cost of gasoline is about $3.69 per gallon, a first-class stamp costs 45 cents, and the post offices are in jeopardy. Texting and emails have taken over. And so our graduates, and indeed all of us, continue with our economic challenges.

But has there ever been any society in the history of the world that has been perfect or without challenge? America had problems in 1912 just as we do today in 2012. However, we still can be the greatest country on Earth if we do not lose our Christian values.

It is not that challenges have changed during the past years, but how much they have remained the same. Or perhaps it is us who have changed.

Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.

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