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A world of difference between dances

A high school reunion may be defined as a stimulating attempt to connect two dances, 25 years apart. One June morning in 1960, some 775 of us from East High School donned French-gray caps and gowns and walked across the stage of the Coronado Theater here to receive diplomas, then danced the night away to the Twist at our senior prom ($2 a couple for the dance in the gym, 50 cents each for the all-night party and breakfast at Forest Hills Country Club).

Now, a quarter of a century later, here we were, 340 of us at the Clock Tower Inn, reassembled from as far away as Singapore, wearing name tags to help penetrate one another's disguises as mid-life adults -- and continuing to dance to heavily amplified rock that prompted one old grad to shout above the din: ``If we wanted to hear this kind of music, we could have stayed home with our teen-agers.''

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In fact, we were now -- 80 percent of us -- parents of teen-agers, the current high school generation.

The theme of that long-ago senior prom was ``Sophistication'' -- as misleading a motif, in retrospect, as anyone could have dreamed up for the children of this conservative, heavily Swedish city 90 miles northwest of Chicago.

The teen-agers who danced to Pat Boone hits under blue-and-white crepe paper streamers that evening knew nothing about drugs.

I recall only one pregnancy among girls in our class. In the tradition of the time, she left school promptly when she ``started to show.'' A generation later, our rival high school across the river is considering an on-site day-care center for the children of teen-age mothers.

On TV we watched ``Father Knows Best,'' ``Ozzie and Harriet,'' and Westerns in black and white. Walt Disney's ``Pollyanna'' was playing at local theaters that spring.

In 1960, our idea of rebellion was to protest the school's dress code, which forbade sweat shirts, low-slung jeans, and long hair. Thirty seniors showed up one morning wearing sweat shirts over their regular attire. The principal gave a one-sentence order -- ``Take them off'' -- and that was that.

We should have danced under a banner of ``Innocence'' rather than ``Sophistication.'' How unprepared we were for the 25 years of history that marched us at double time, it seems, from one dance to the next!

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Before we finished college, the ``Up-Against-the-Wall!'' '60s came upon us. ``Love Me Tender, Love Me True,'' sang Elvis Presley -- and two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. fell to assassins' bullets. Some of the boys of the class of '60 kept their in-style crew cuts as they shipped out to Vietnam.

Nothing in our formative Eisenhower years prepared us for the sexual revolution, or even the women's movement. Most of the girls in the class of '60 went off to college expecting to emerge four years later with two trophies: a bachelor's degree and an eligible young bachelor who would bestow upon them a second degree: MRS. Many of us planned to work a year or two first, but our chosen fields -- overwhelmingly teaching and nursing -- were mostly ``something to fall back on, just in case.'' We fully expec ted to follow in our mothers' footsteps as wives, mothers, and full-time homemakers -- but only a third of us have.

Little did we know then that in just three years Betty Friedan, a native of Peoria, 90 miles to the south, would write a book that would forever alter most of our lives. Many of us, in fact, chart the early '60s by two reference points: where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot, and where we were when we read ``The Feminine Mystique.''

We have paid the price for change. It may be a sign of the restless times that more than 100 in our class are listed as ``missing,'' their whereabouts unknown.

While most of us grew up in ``intact'' families, divorce has taken its toll among classmates. Ten percent of those who responded to a pre-reunion questionnaire are now divorced, and an indeterminate number of others have remarried.

We have acquired a taste for stability, the hard way.

Now it is our turn to live in a world belonging to other teen-agers and say, as our parents did in 1960: ``We didn't do it that way.''

But somehow, for all the turmoil behind us, for all the uncertainty ahead, there is a surprisingly strong pattern to our journey between dances. Nearly half the class still lives in Rockford. And I am heartened by the large number of high school romances and youthful marriages that have lasted.

Just a week or two before our graduation, a disastrous East-West summit in Geneva discussed what the Monitor called ``the thorny question of a nuclear test ban.''

And a 1960 headline in Time magazine wondered: ``Is pornography a mounting menace to U.S. youth?''

Anything to do with a nuclear test ban is still ``thorny,'' and pornography is still a ``mounting menace'' to youth. But our generation of youth survived, and as we celebrators packed up the mementos of the reunion evening -- a class directory and a black mug with the school emblem outlined in red -- we seemed to share an unspoken optimism that our children can survive whatever lies between them and their 25th.

The class president, carried away by the spirit, proposed a toast to ``the greatest group of people anywhere.'' Well, maybe not quite. But we could have done worse. And the dance goes on.

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