Notes on Saturday afternoon program, Class of '69 reunion, May 22, 1999
Five years ago we conducted a survey - about 40% of the class participated - which
allowed us to describe ourselves in a variety of ways, having to do with our
relationships, families, jobs, education, politics, and the impact of our Smith education.
This year we want to focus on the changes in our lives. Our fifties can be a time of
stability, but they also seem to provide opportunities or force us to deal with important
new challenges: death of parents or moving into care taking roles for them; marriages
ending; moving into new careers or retirement; taking up new pursuits or following
continuing interests; confronting the "empty nest"; coping with health issues
large and small.
A new facts from our 1994 survey to start with. At that point in the time (and probably
still), we are at an incredibly wide range of ages and stages with regard to our children:
in 1994, twelve survey respondents had children in pre-school while 69 had children in
college or beyond. We are extremely well-educated, with only 2% not taking more courses or
pursuing degrees post-Smith. Almost 60% reported being employed full-time, with jobs
ranging over a wide spectrum ; and three-quarters reported being active volunteers,
averaging over 15 hours per month. Just over a quarter reported major surgery, 15% have
suffered from depression, and 20% reported chronic or life-threatening illness.
We also had access to Wellesley Class of '68 survey conducted for their 30th reunion
last year, and we looked at this for some indications of the kinds of recent changes that
might characterize our class as well. For example, over half of their respondents now live
in "child-free" homes. Sixty-five percent have lost at least one parent, 21%
both, and increasing numbers take some kind of responsibility for parents, in-laws or
other aging relatives. Most have thought about retirement, though few have made concrete
plans. Over past 5 years 41% have sought psychiatric therapy or counseling; 88% now need
bifocals or reading glasses; and 49% have colored their hair!
It is clear, though, that the number of important changes - and certainly the stories
that go with these changes - can't be picked up by surveys. In the wonderful conversations
that made up the Saturday program, several of our classmates shared their stories with us.
Ellyn Paul Weiss told us about her decision to stop practicing law after many years and
pursue serious career as a painter. Linda Frank Told talked movingly about caring for her
ill parents as well as for her brother with substance abuse problems. April Hoxie Foley
spoke about the death of her husband and how this dramatically changed her views about her
career and what was important to her. Marcia Shenk created an instant fan club when she
described taking up ice hockey - at which she now excels - just ten years ago. Carolyn
Leigh talked about the effects on her life of coping with a major, life-threatening
illness. Linda Burden spoke briefly about her empty nest and hoped that, as we move toward
retirement and having more flexible time, we might allow our lives to be transformed by
acting and theater, as her life has been. Charlotte Squarcy spoke about reinventing her
work every few years as the market and the clients changed.
The generosity of these classmates in sharing stories of their own lives inspired
innumerable conversations during the rest of the day Saturday. We talked about
dissatisfactions (and satisfactions) with careers and the marriages, about the courage
required to walk away from bad relationships, about conflicts with children. This mood of
reflection was stunningly illuminated and strengthened by Lynn Slaughter's dance
performance Saturday night, "Flying at Fifty". Lynn's beautiful and
autobiographical pieces brought laughter, tears, and cheers from a large audience. They
were especially meaningful for ‚69ers in light of our day-long conversations, affirming
that there has been learning and growth and value to all those years since we left Smith
for the world.