Remember When: A look back at what high school graduates faced in 1960

Tom Mooney - Remember When
Tom Mooney Remember When -

Hey, it’s high school graduation time.

I’m happy for all the young folks, but don’t expect me to offer any advice to them. I know only about what grads used to face as they exited the auditorium, diplomas in hand.

So as an exercise in “how things change,” let’s look at the landscape that confronted young guys and girls after graduation in times past.

OK, it’s 1960 (or thereabout), the year of my own graduation.

Your high school commencement ceremony, a very decorous one, has just ended. There was no shouting or fist pumping or parents screaming. What you got was a fairly long speech by a community leader offering you some worldly wisdom as you prepared to walk out the school doors for the last time. Probably your class also sang a Christian hymn and joined in prayers.

Exiting the auditorium to a recessional march, you confront your future.

College? Only about one-third of your classmates are going on to a four-year institution of higher learning.

If you’d chosen to be one of them, paying would be the least of your worries. Few colleges in America at this time charge more than $1,000 a year. Smaller ones run about half that. Proceeds from a summer job will pretty well cover your tuition.

The difficulty, though, lies in gaining admission. In the explosive economy of postwar America, the undersized colleges designed to serve an earlier era are bursting at the seams.

How do you get in? Well, you request applications via U.S. mail, fill them out and send them back. If they pass muster, you then travel to River Street in Wilkes-Barre or to Philadelphia or California or wherever your favored colleges are to take the entry and scholarship exams. If you do well, you move to stage three — being called in for an interview by the dean. National standardized college exams like today’s SAT exist but are usually not required.

If you have your “congratulations” letter from your college, you and your family can celebrate with clear minds.

Wherever you land, though, becoming a teacher is a good bet, with those innumerable baby boomers hot on your heels and needing to be educated, though with the Wyoming Valley’s population sliding, you might have to relocate. Maryland and New Jersey are good bets.

College is far from the only plan. Some classmates will go right out to a military recruiting office and join up. Perhaps they will enjoy the life and stay in. Others will go the civil service exam route.

For most grads, there is an immediate civilian paycheck waiting. The economy of Wyoming Valley in 1960 is not exactly booming, but it does offer opportunity for many.

Whether your interests include waiting on customers (zillions of stores in those days), fixing cars, sewing garments, driving a truck, typing office forms or installing pipes, there is likely something for you out there when you graduate. Perhaps you’ve already been doing that work after school hours and during breaks and now simply move up to full time.

To beef up your credentials, there are beautician schools, secretarial schools and tech schools locally, all modestly priced.

One attractive, though changing, field is nursing. Local hospitals have traditionally trained their own nurses, but colleges are now setting up programs.

Of course, we should always look to our futures. But, you know, from $500-a-year college tuition to part-time jobs that magically expanded into careers, 1960 wasn’t exactly a bad year to walk down that auditorium aisle.

Tom Mooney Remember When Mooney Remember When

Tom Mooney

Remember When

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]