50th Reunion Speech
Will Rogers High School
50th Reunion Address to the Class of 1956
Phillip Butler, PhD 9-30-06
Thank you my classmates. You are very kind and generous to this old ex con. Today I feel especially privileged to have been given the honor of introducing others in our class who richly deserve our recognition and appreciation. But before I do that, I have a few observations.
We have lived through an unparalleled and amazing 50 years in which we have experienced nothing short of an unprecedented social revolution.
First there is War. War is the gift that just keeps on giving, generation after generation.
In 1956 the remnants of our Civil War were still haunting our society even though it had ended 90 years before. But we were just beginning to work our way out. Even today, the economic disparity that still exists between our northern and southern states is in part a carry over from Civil War devastation and perceived dishonor.
Look at all our white faces here today. We grew up and graduated in a segregated and racist culture. The 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, launched the civil rights struggle and turmoil of the 60’s and 70’s.
Rock and Roll music got started – black music often imitated by whites.
Women also began their struggle for equal opportunity, at work and at home, forever changing stereotyped images of what women, and men, can be. Part of that change was a sexual revolution that followed the invention of “The Pill.”
President Eisenhower instituted our national highway system that gave birth to the mobile and consumer-oriented society we know today.
The television era began, changing forever the way we recreate, communicate and receive information. Other electronic wonders followed; the computer, the cell phone and other devices that to many of us might seem to have complicated rather than enriched our lives.
Space travel began and continued with landing men on the moon and the exploration of our outer solar system.
Nuclear weapons were proliferated to numerous other countries, and the Cold War nuclear standoff ultimately brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But the defining event of our lives had to be the Vietnam War. It was a long and terrible venture that left many of us in doubt. We lost 58,000 killed and hundreds of thousands wounded and emotionally shattered – our best and brightest. It also left the Vietnamese with an unimaginable 2 million killed, many millions more wounded and shattered, and a landscape that has been environmentally devastated for generations to come.
For those of us who saw it first hand, Vietnam was like all wars – chaotic, destructive, dehumanizing and I must say, disgusting. War is the worst possible thing that exists in the lexicon of human behavior.
But remember I said earlier that war is also the gift that just keeps on giving. Many of us have experienced and perhaps continue to experience anger, resentment and polarization over the Vietnam War. There were the doves and the hawks back then, so I’m told, because as you all know, I was “vacationing in the tropics” as we former Vietnam POW’s like to say. The war caused polarization even among friends and family.
But at some point my friends, all good people seek to heal the wounds of war. And that’s what I’d like us to start doing here today. Others outside this room can carry on with their resentments and anger, but let us classmates begin to heal ours here and now.
To do this, first I’d like to recognize and honor all our military veterans, those who served in any of our services, in any capacity. Would you please stand and receive our appreciation.
Second, I’d like to recognize and honor those who also struggled to end the war and bring us safely home, those of us who were the doves, protesters and activists against the Vietnam War. Would you please stand and receive our appreciation.
And finally, I’d like to recognize and honor our Vietnam Veterans who often, tragically, were not appreciated for their sacrifices. They all deserve the same welcome I received from you when I came home to Tulsa in 1973. So would all of you, my Vietnam brothers and sisters, please come up and stand on this stage with me.
(Each Vietnam veteran says his/her name, service and years in Vietnam. “Welcome home” by classmates
Finally, I hope all of us will remember our past mistakes and seek to help keep new generations of graduates from making the same ones over again. Surely all of us here today can understand and appreciate the privilege of being here, 50 years later, and the responsibility we have to pass on that wisdom. And I hope all of us will continue to help heal the wounds of war, past and present. Remember. You can hate the war but never forget to love our warriors.