PROLOGUE: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, hosted by Robin Leach, was a nationally-syndicated television program, which ran from 1984 to 1995. It led to a new era of celebrity-worship, spotlighting the eccentricities and excesses of a different member of the “rich and famous” each week. The program always gave special attention to the prices paid for the various luxuries with which the perceived “upper crust” enhanced their daily lives, ranging from spacious seaside villas, to classic cars, to gold-plated bathroom fixtures.
“Everybody Has a Dream” – Billy Joel – “The Stranger” Album, released September 29, 1977
According to infoplease.com, the following significant events occurred in 1976…
- Supreme Court rules that blacks and other minorities are entitled to retroactive job seniority (March 24).
- Ford signs Federal Election Campaign Act (May 11).
- Supreme Court rules that death penalty is not inherently cruel or unusual and is a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment (July 3).
- Nation celebrates bicentennial (July 4).
- Israeli airborne commandos attack Uganda’s Entebbe Airport and free 103 hostages held by pro-Palestinian hijackers of Air France plane; one Israeli and several Ugandan soldiers killed in raid (July 4).
- Mysterious disease that eventually claims 29 lives strikes American Legion convention in Philadelphia (Aug. 4).
- Jimmy Carter elected U.S. president (Nov. 2).
Additionally, of no less significance than these other world-altering events, in Memphis, Tennessee, 360 teenagers sat in their high school gymnasium on a hot May evening, in blue caps and gowns, as their lives changed forever.
By now, you are probably saying, so what?
Well, boys and girls, this graduating class was different.
Brought together by a court order requiring students to be forcibly bussed across town to other schools, in full swing by their Sophomore Year, these adolescents ( as their American Literature teacher would call them) warily gravitated toward each other as other fellow classmates left them as their parents placed them in newly-formed private schools.
As their time together in that high school rolled on, something quite remarkable happened.
These students began to realize that they were not so different from one another, after all.
You see, these were the days when a broken home was an abnormality, instead of an accepted fact of life, and a time when success was not measured by the size of the money clip in your pocket, but rather, the strength of your family ties.
While school discipline was something to be feared, it didn’t hold a candle to what you would face from your parents when you got home.
School fights happened after school and were accomplished with poorly-aimed fists, not firearms, leaving little damage to the combatants, except wounded prides and backsides, when they got home.
Teachers were the subject of awe and legend…and ruled their classrooms, educating and encouraging their charges to take what they had learned and to make a good life for themselves.
The social lives of these teenagers, were no less educational, filled with learning about how to actually talk to and get along with one another and getting to know themselves as well.
Why am I waxing nostalgic about this long ago high school graduating class?
I was one of them.
Over the last two evenings, I have been experiencing a flood of memories and emotions as I attended my 40th High School Reunion.
Masterfully planned and executed, the event went off with a hitch, with old friends reuniting, filling each other in on the highs and lows of the journey upon which God had taken them during the last 40 years.
Prestige and our economic and societal status took a back seat to demonstrations of affection, understanding, and laughter as we shared remembrances of our time together as “crazy” teenagers, “caught up” with one another’s lives and families, and told stories about beloved friends who were no longer with us.
The “Rich and Famous” are paupers compared to us.
For the past two nights, this disparate collection of former Memphis Teenagers once again discovered how blessed we truly were…and are.
So, this Sunday Morning, I congratulate the Bicentennial Graduating Class of 1976.
I love y’all.
I wish to finish this reflection with the words of an old Irish toast, turned into a benediction, that I used to sing in my home church’s choir.
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you, HOLD YOU, in the Hollow of His hand.
Until He Comes,