The most common theme of their recollections was surviving difficult times. More than a few gave me incredulous glances as I asked about their dreams beyond high school or college.
“What dream? I graduated during the Depression,” Paul said. “College wasn’t an option. No one had any money. I just needed to find a job right away—any kind of job.” Lenny said, recalling his graduation day from Gilroy High School. “I stepped on the stage to receive my diploma and reality set in. I had to go to work right away.” He worked for the Gilroy Dispatch and then got drafted. “I wasn’t happy about that, but at least they stationed me in Germany so I got to see Europe.” Andrew was also drafted, so any plans he had made were put on hold. “Staying alive was the most important thing.”
Mary shares that she never made it to graduation. “I got married at 17,” When asked if she was able to achieve her dreams, she reflects a moment and says, “not at that time. I had children and the marriage didn’t work out, but nowadays I love trying to bring a smile and comfort to someone each day, so I guess it has taken until I’m an old lady to reach that dream.” She is indeed a comfort to others with her gentle smile and calming presence. Sitting next to her is Annie, who remembers nothing of her graduation, but will never forget that lack of money kept her from her dream of attending college. She became a skilled secretary, though, and went to work for a college. She loved being part of the campus community, working around the administrators, professors and students, and feels that she lived her dream in a vicarious way. She is proud that she was able to help her own children attend college so they could reach for the stars.
Penny, born after the Depression and outside of wartime, was one of the few who happily shared she achieved her dream of attending college and becoming a teacher. She loved her students and the busy life of a teacher.
Circumstances beyond their control kept many of our seniors from further education and careers they once dreamed about, but they are content with the choices they made. They take pride in the jobs they have since retired from. They feel gratitude rather than envy that their children and grandchildren experienced more opportunities. And they all seem rather happy that their own graduations were not marred by the presence of streakers.
Cheryl Huguenor is the program director at Live Oak Adult Day Services in Gilroy. For more information visit liveoakadultdaycare.org.