History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Graduation reflects tenor of the times

Caspar Milquetoast gave the inspiration for a memorable line in the 1973 Morris High School graduation. It was the defining line of the night. Edie Martin proclaimed "Don't be a Milquetoast." She's the daughter of the late Willie and Rachel.
There was a time when high schools would bring in a featured speaker for graduation. Colleges are still fond of doing this. I get the impression it's not so necessary in high schools, where the podium gets turned over to selected grads themselves.
Bless these grads on the optimistic tone that characterizes their speeches.
Boomer parents might sit there and wonder why more of this tone couldn't have been heard when they were young. Boomers graduated from high school in an unsettled time. A graduate who spoke for commencement wasn't likely to choose the passive tone of today.
There were exceptions of course, but many celebrated graduation speeches of that time were "edgy." They encouraged a fresh start for our society. They encouraged grads to be uninhibited and take a fresh view of things.
I graduated from high school in 1973. The first Watergate revelations appeared in the summer of 1972 and the whole thing didn't culminate until the summer of 1974. So we were smack dab in the middle.
The president who represented the "silent majority" of the older, mature population of that time was going to get dragged out of power. This was the president who inherited Lyndon Johnson's war but couldn't end it, at least not for a very long time.
Perhaps Dick Nixon made the mistake of many conservative and Republican politicians of today, who say (like a parrot) "we have to listen to our generals on the ground." We mustn't be wimpy. Problem is, a general will never say "we're losing and we need to get the heck out."
The worst of the Viet Nam War was behind us as we crossed the stage in that spring of 1973. But this and other problems, like belated civil rights advancement, made us restless. We weren't inclined to want to hear the "stock" high school graduation speech.
The grads who spoke might not come right out and make naked political points. That would be a faux pas. So they exuded the rebellious air in a subtle way, almost by "code," by just being edgy and unconventional. We could read between the lines.
Our graduation was when Morris High School - no "Area" then - did seek the outside, adult "featured speaker." Many schools might tap an alumnus of note for this.
We didn't go outside for our speaker because we invited an intern Lutheran pastor from in Morris. I don't remember any of what he said.
A member of the clergy might be questionable as a graduation speaker. These people are by definition biased. Each denomination has a track record of opinions. Outside the cocoon of their own church, their speaking might not win broad acclamation.
I think the advice he dispensed to us was pretty tame. We listened respectfully.
Two from among us also took the podium. One gave a pretty stock speech, the contents of which I'd have no better chance remembering than the weather of that day. The other speech was by one of those grads of the time who felt she should be unconventional. I'm quite certain all of us in that class remember at least one catch line of hers.
She told us "don't be a Milquetoast." She was lively and animated at the podium.
The class of '73 was emerging from the rubble of some contentious times in America. Not only could a graduation speech shake us up a little, encouraging us to be fresh and original, a class motto could shake things up too. The late Wally Behm recalled pulling his hair out, at least figuratively, getting the school's leadership to put its imprimatur on ours. It was a quote from a U.S. Civil War commander. It was from the battle of Mobile Bay.
A Civil War battle was a metaphor for the kind of adjustments American society was being pulled through, i.e. with advancements in civil rights, gender equality (still a ways off) and getting completely out of Viet Nam. Our class motto was "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."
Did we say "damn?"
I don't know if this theme would cause a problem today. It would most likely cause a problem with the graduates themselves. All those FFAers (and others) who subscribe to only the most wholesome of principles would make a face at such a phrase.
We didn't even have FFA at Morris High School when I was there. Can you believe that? I wrote about its creation when I was with the print media. I remember working with our first-ever FFA advisor, a gentleman named Jim Clendenin. I'm proud to remember the spelling of his last name. It's not quite the same as the New York Mets' first baseman on that miracle team of 1969: "Donn Clendenon." Morris was enthralled by that team because it included WCSA graduate Jerry Koosman, the big lefty.
FFA's inception meant that more settled times were arriving - a subscription to healthy, conventional and predictable values, sweeping aside much of the previous tumult. The FFAers in their blue jackets would be a source of stability. I can't imagine them issuing cries of protest. We can be thankful we live in what seems a more well-ordered world.
The boys of today should be reminded there was a time when the specter of military conscription (the draft) would hang over them. Such letters from "Uncle Sam" would begin "Greetings," remember?
Pearl Harbor was one thing. The Gulf of Tonkin, sadly, was quite something else. The Tonkin event might in fact have been entirely phantom - fabricated as a pretext for U.S. involvement.
The war cast a pall in a way that the nicely scrubbed and cheerful young people of today would have a hard time grasping. They might study the Viet Nam war in the detached manner of a student. "Oh, gee, that was unpleasant." To actually live through that was anything but academic.
So an air of pervasive restlessness arose in our academic institutions. Academia exists as an incubator for tomorrow's thought leaders. We saw a lot that was wrong but we lacked power to institute immediate change. So our graduation speakers drifted toward oddball, unconventional themes - "don't be a Milquetoast" - as a coded way of saying many of our conventions as a nation had become cockeyed.
It was a way of sort of "dropping out."
Morris historians should note that our practice of seeking an outside graduation speaker ended abruptly. I can pinpoint the year. It was in my first year of covering the Morris High School graduation for the print media. The year was 1979. Jimmy Carter was president.
Our featured speaker was supposed to be Lou Wangberg, lieutenant governor. But he canceled with the explanation that the weather was a problem for his plane flight. He was known to be committed to a political (partisan) event at the same rough time, I believe in Duluth.
Suspicion sprang up immediately that Wangberg just didn't want to take the time to come here, that he had pressing political business to attend to. Very firmly, the Morris community decided it wasn't necessary to bring some pompous soul here to dispense wisdom for graduation. The kids themselves would do just fine. Politicians be damned, I guess.
Maybe we were wiser back in 1973 getting that local clergyman. I should note he was a "hip" young clergyman rather consistent with the tenor among the young. He is deceased, having died while practicing his craft in Florida. While in Morris he was associated with our First Lutheran Church. It was my church although I never felt any special affinity there. My closest personal friends tended to be Catholic.
Could the pendulum go back and could Morris decide it might be neat to get a "special" graduation speaker again? These things can go in cycles. Maybe we could get Newt Gingrich. His price might be reasonable. Hopefully he's recovered from that penguin bite.
Maybe Gingrich would come here and tell us about that moon base. He's Republican so he'd win the approval of those FFAers and their parents, who are largely Farm Bureau, straight-laced types.
We're on the doorstep of May, so graduation is getting near. The last Morris graduation I covered for the print media was in 2006. It was "Morris Area" and not "Morris." The local newspaper had lost much of its soul because of having been taken over by distant corporate interests. I had already submitted my resignation, so it was a highly bittersweet night.
The company made sure the public got the message I was on the way out. Two other newspaper employees would be there that night, one an intern, and I had no previous knowledge of that.
I had covered Morris graduations by myself as far back as 1979. But in 2006 I had become an afterthought, I guess. One of those employees walked right in front of me to take a photo at one point.
Considering the cuts made by that newspaper since then, I'm surprised they could have three employees present to cover graduation. The biggest cut of course was the cancellation of the mid-week (Wednesday) edition. They of course will say they "had to" do this. They'll say the new "weekly" paper has to come out on Saturday because "advertisers want it this way."
So the advertisers rule, which you can readily suspect by just examining the product. And I guess the reading public comes second.
I know some very established Morris residents - community pillar types actually - whose names I won't type here, but they have told me they don't buy the paper anymore. They don't subscribe and they don't buy it at the store. They don't mince words.
Now, if we could only get that "virtual community" destiny driver of Stevens Forward! to take hold, it wouldn't matter. We could all discard the paper and it wouldn't matter.
If only such a time would come. Unfortunately Stevens Forward! is turning out to be a dud. It's quite in line with Caspar Milquetoast.
Addendum: The urban dictionary defines a "Milquetoast" as "a very timid, unassertive, spineless person, especially one who is easily dominated or intimidated."
Edie Martin was (is) quite the opposite.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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