Beloit College, in Wisconsin, annually publishes a list for incoming students that identifies (and perhaps corrects) the sociological and political assumptions of 18 year-olds entering their first year of post-secondary education.
What began 11 years ago as a witty summary of event horizons is now a nationally recognized database for students too young to remember that Truman, not Roosevelt, dropped the atomic bomb.
Beloit’s website claims that the list isn’t intentionally designed to make some readers feel old. Unfortunately, one of this year’s changes (the Green Bay Packers quarterback is not Brett Favre) does precisely that. In fact, Favre’s move to the New York Jets is an historical milestone on the order of the collapse of the Soviet Union, at least in the minds of Upper Midwesterners. Not surprisingly, both occupy the same time slot; Favre joined the Packers in 1992, and the USSR fell apart in 1991.
Written by Tom McBride, a teacher, and Ron Nief, Beloit’s PR director, this years’ list is 60 sentences long, and covers social, political and cultural morphs from karaoke machines to Coke (COKE – $41.03), and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to credit checks.
Some of us are occasionally startled to realize there are living people who don’t know caller ID is a relatively new feature on telephones. One entry (the Royal New Zealand Navy has never been permitted a daily ration of rum) seems particularly dated, or simply irrelevant in the context of American history. Another – living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins – is a poignant reminder not only of aging, but also of the fact that the world’s technological superiority is exceeded only by its almost insupportable population.
As a journalist, one item struck a particularly jagged note: “Radio stations have never been required to present both sides of public issues.” I remember the voice and wisdom of Walter Cronkite, describing the state of the world and current events in such unbiased tones I instinctively knew he had a real grasp of the situation. His famous parting line on CBS’ You Are There ("What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… and you were there.") gave an entire generation a fuller understanding of historical imperatives.
Otherwise, the list reminds those of us who are beginning to be dated by our aphorisms (“too dumb to pour pee out of a boot,” for example, or “colder than a well-digger’s butt in January”) that we need to shed scorn and acquire empathy. Not everyone has lived in an era where women wearing headscarves simply meant curlers or a bad-hair day, or where blacks automatically went to the back of the bus.
On the flip side, for those feeling older than rocks or dinosaurs, Nief reminds: "It’s easy to be envious of youth. But if you’ve got a certain degree of wisdom and your body hasn’t fallen apart yet, you may be at the best time of your life."
Disclosure: I don’t own Coca Cola stock.