Skip to content

COLUMN: Reflections from the Summerland graduates of 1959

Differences and similarities seen when looking back at the 1959 graduating class

It’s interesting to reflect on some of the similarities and differences between our class of 1959 and this year’s class of 2024. 

We both had major international crises hanging over our heads - the risk of nuclear war between the old Soviet Union and the United States in our case and the risks of major climate change for today’s graduates.  

Both crises required young people to speak out for their futures. 

The risks of nuclear war have diminished, although not yet zero. But climate change and associated risks continue to worsen and will require a great deal of work for this year’s and future graduates to wrestle with.

In addition to the global differences between the Class of ’59 and this year’s graduates, there are many other differences between what we experienced and what the current graduates are expected to deal with technology being a predominant one. 

We had no iPads or handheld digital phones.  

Female students were expected to learn how to sew, cook and type as part of a good high school education.  

Fortunately, one of our counsellors insisted that male students intending on any post-secondary education ought to know how to type.

The result was a special class where we had to learn “touch typing” on typewriters with no letters on the keys.

Is there an eight- to 10-year-old these days who has not yet learned to use an iPad or cell phone?  

In addition to differences in the availability of technology, there are other differences between then and now.

An important one is the increased proportion of current graduates wishing to enter programs at the college or university level. This has resulted in both an increase in the numbers of applicants as well as the tuition costs — and years of incurred debts prior to even earning a reasonable income to pay them off.

The increased anxiety surrounding admissions and program completion is certainly a major difference between 1959 and 2024.

Of course, we can’t make 1959 and 2024 comparisons without considering cultural differences.

In 1959 we had artists such as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Platters and the Kingston Trio to name just a handful. In the 2020s the stars are the likes of Taylor Swift, the South Korea boy band BTS, the Canadian rapper Drake, Ariana Grande among a wide array. 

With regard to movies, there were no giant wide-screen theatres. Nor were there streaming services such as Netflix. And forget watching movies or other information offerings on handheld screens.

On the other hand, we did have very large screen drive-in movie theatres.

We, the Class of 1959, wish the new Class of 2024 all the best in the exciting new endeavours that lay ahead.

Ted Hannah was the Summerland High School class valedictorian in 1959.