Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Soundtrack of Our Lives: Has it Been 45 Years Already?


Have you ever flipped through an old yearbook, the faded photos and handwritten messages transporting you back to a simpler time? Those worn pages become a window into a bygone era, a reminder of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations we once held dear. In life, I tend to look forward, not backward, with the fundamental belief that our best days are still to come.

This changed recently by two events.

The Events - Setting the Stage

I was asked to give the commencement speech at a local college next month and kept asking myself, what message would have inspired members of our class back in the day? So much has changed, but many things have remained the same. The most successful talks are not speeches but stories—events people can relate to. That's the tack I'm attempting to take with this opportunity: tell a story about the region, state, and the people who made it great. We'll see how it goes.

The second event, someone pointed out on Facebook an event that made me smile and reminisce. An acquaintance had just stepped into the world of retirement, sparking a wave of nostalgia and a deep pride in how far he had come, as did numerous others from our graduating class. I remember how proud this individual was when he graduated from Virginia Tech and talked fondly about the company where he would spend the next 35-plus years. What a great accomplishment! I hope retirement provides him many years of enjoyment and health.

The two events are particularly poignant as I reflect on the past 45 years since our graduation. The period reminds me of a point in time that was a time capsule of friendships forged, lessons learned, mistakes made (many of those!), and the events that shaped our lives.

Preparing for the Event and a Confession

Occasionally, I'm asked to speak at events on technology, leadership, or life. At an event in the Middle East earlier this year, someone asked me how to prepare for such an event and relate the topic to the world around us. I had never really thought about the question before, but after pondering the question, I said storytelling. Relate the topics to stories about events or people. Now, the confession: many of you were the basis of characters (no names, of course) I've used in stories about trust, hope, sacrifice, and determination over the past 35 years.

Stories like the brilliant engineer who went back to the family farm, an incredible lawyer who decided not to practice law, a trumpet player who went on to serve our country, the crazy hippie who is a master gardener and would give you the shirt off his back, a beekeeper who teaches resilience through loss, the farmer who turned politician, the businessman who timed the market correctly and sold his concern at the threshold of change, then there's the athlete, the scholar, the clown, the factory workers, the insurance agents, the dropout—the stories go on and on. There are also stories about your children who are changing the world by running hospitals, driving businesses, writing code, teaching, farming, and even one who is a famous model. Great stories about remarkable humans.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication that helps an audience relate and remember. I can't tell you how many conferences I've ended my talk only to say, remember today, it ain't no big thing, but with your help, it's growing. Sound familiar? I guess passing that sign for 18 years in Gretna had an impact.

Over the years, I've bragged about our town, region, class, and all it produced - a diverse tapestry of people who helped shape the region's economy. We had everything from farmers to engineers, doctors to teachers, accountants to truck drivers, factory workers to politicians—and everyone in between. We also had many who served in our Armed Forces—THANK YOU, we don't say that enough.

The Flip Side of the Yearbook

Reflecting on our journey has been like flipping through a yearbook filled with stories of resilience, successes, failures, triumphs, and defeats. Each story tells of people contributing to the fabric of society and touching lives in countless ways. I often think about the ones we've lost over time. Driving along the Altavista Bypass always brings back memories of James and hanging out at Percy Moorefields before a softball game. Classmates like Dean in Pittsville, Ray in Hurt, Barry at Vista Point, Danny in Mt. Airy, and Laura along Rockford School Road. Each name and memory reminds me of a brief moment in time that shouldn’t be forgotten. As you move into your next phase, think about making the most of the time you have left and reconnect with those who have helped you along the way. Even those you may have disagreed with or simply didn't like at the time tend to be the most interesting conversations and, ultimately, laughs (time will do that to you).

The Music of Our Era

And the music, oh, the music! I call this period my lost decade since I spent more time playing radio than imagining the broader world around me. I'm trying to catch as many farewell tours as possible before it's too late. When Charlie of the Stones died, this increased the sense of urgency. As Jeff Lynne of ELO sang, "I Can't Get It Out of My Head," I guess he was right. OBTW, the ELO farewell tour is planned for this year. This was one of the first concerts I attended at the Roanoke Civic Center in High School, and I plan to attend the farewell tour.

Those late '70s and early '80s tunes were more than just background noise; they were the soundtrack of our adolescence, echoing the highs and lows of those formative years. It's funny when you hear the Stones as background music on various music services. It's like Henry Mancini and His Orchestra performing "You Can't Always Get What You Want." A strange juxtaposition, don't you think?

Remember When Your Car Meant Freedom

Those carefree days with the windows down and the radio blasting seem like a lifetime ago. Cruising with friends might have been our main mode of transportation back then, but life has a way of taking us down different roads. Remember the nights driving around H&E in Gretna or the Dairy Freeze in Altavista? Maybe it was the serene escapes to Smith Mountain and Leesville lakes for swimming, fishing, or whatever. It's these places where friendships are forged and memories are made. Those trips to places like Danville and Lynchburg were often an adventure, like a midnight cheesy western run to the Texas Tavern or cruising down Riverside Drive.

Our New Reality

Fast-forward some 45 years. Many more of us are entering the golden years: retirement, new opportunities, grandparenthood, even great-grandparenthood. We share stories and lessons with the next generation, a full-circle moment that's both humbling and incredibly fulfilling. But here's the thing: while we cherish our past experiences, we're also moving forward, embracing this "second act" with open arms.

There's so much life yet to be lived! Whether traveling, diving back into education (did you know many community colleges offer free courses for seniors?), volunteering, reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, or making new ones, the possibilities are endless. This chapter is about exploring new passions, giving back to the community, and savoring the simple joys of life. Our journey is not always fair, rewarding, or even successful, but it offers a unique second chance—something many people around the world simply don't have. It's a chance to help someone in need, volunteer, learn a new hobby, or simply catch the big one that got away.

Final Thoughts and The Road Ahead

I love reading about the accomplishments of my peers, their children, and friends. I'm touched by the personal triumphs and tragedies this extended group has endured over the years. I reflect on the opportunities we had that our parents' generation did not enjoy. The sacrifices they made to give us better lives are something we should never forget. My closest friends and I have a couple of things in common that serve as the cornerstone of our lives. We had many people help us along the way, and we believe we must be good stewards and give back to the community that has given us so much. You find us saying "Thank you for your help" a lot.

Occasionally, folks from our community come up to me and say, "Remember when you said this or that?" I usually say, "If I said that, I was stupid (which is still true), or out of my mind, you choose." This is often met with a blank stare. Then they usually ask, why would you say that? The reply is always the same: time has given me a different perspective. I'm also confident that my perspective will likely evolve as I have more experience with the people and the world around me. It's amazing how the classroom of life will do that to you.

As we gear up for the next chapter, remember and celebrate the past while toasting and embracing the future. The journey from those high school hallways to today has been quite the trip. Can you imagine what the next 10 years will look like? Here's to you, the Class of '79—may you continue to live fully, love deeply, and embrace every new adventure with the same spirit of curiosity and passion that brought us this far. If your children, grandchildren, or friends tell you about some crazy old dude from Gretna who gave their graduation commencement and told stories about the area and the road ahead - It wasn't me ;-). Cheers to the next chapter and the many more to come!

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The Soundtrack of Our Lives: Has it Been 45 Years Already?

Reflections Have you ever flipped through an old yearbook, the faded photos and handwritten messages transporting you back to a simpler time...