16 Years Old

I had an interesting conversation today with some of my colleagues  (and a student). We were talking about what we were doing at 16 years of age. Both of my colleagues are a bit older than I am, so 16 for them was 1968. They talked about the Vietnam Conflict, President Johnson, and the 1968 World Series between St. Louis and Detroit. They compared notes from being halfway across the country from each other, yet experiencing the same world events over the miles. They surprised themselves with how much they recalled of the world, of their families, and of themselves and their emotions during that rocky time in our nation’s history. And they told me something about themselves and how their own world view was shaped.

My student chimed in with his own history of 16, how he had just gotten into politics then, and the first debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He talked about high school and how it was an awkward time for him, about the sad nature of being bullied by older students. He gave his limited world view from that period of time, seen through the lens of a mid-2os student looking back on something that wasn’t all that long ago in the grand of scheme of things.

And there I am in the middle of the two extremes. My 16th year was also political in nature, with the ribald humor of presidential satire on Saturday Night Live driving my newfound sense of hilarity. Dana Carvey as Ross Perot was especially poignant and eerie for that time period. The World Series heartache of my Philadelphia Phillies when Toronto hit a home run against Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, ruined my entire fall. Then there was my own high school issues, not with school work but with social issues, and lunch ladies who drooled on our pizza, and girls who didn’t accept stuffed animals from boys who liked them. I kind of forgot just how sad 16 can be.

Then I think of my summer school students, how most of them are just a couple of years away from that magic number themselves, how they think they’re going to be rap stars and reality stars by then. They think they’ll be the next Kardashians, as if being that kind of famous will be good enough for them. They dismiss politics as just a bunch of old folks who “don’t know nuffin.” They only follow football and think concussions are all lame attempts to get extra pay. Or something. To them nostalgia is remembering when Justin Bieber had bangs. Or who Justin Bieber even is.

And for my kids 16 will look infinitely more different than all of the above. That’s how quickly this world is spinning, moving farther away from what we’ve known and deeper into the unknown, dragging us along for the ride. I just hope I never forget how it was for me, like my colleagues still hanging on to 1968, safe and secure in their admittedly hazy memory of it. And I hope that by the time my grandkids hit that magical number I would have forgotten Justin Bieber.

I really hope.


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