June 4, 1970—It was a Thursday and the celebration that evening would be at the Centennial Coliseum, built in 1965 and the go-to venue for Reno’s large gatherings. Concerts, square dancing conventions, and high school graduations all made use of the Coliseum’s cavernous spaces.
But just a month before, on May 4 at Kent State in Ohio, the National Guard was called out to control student demonstrations. By the end of the day, four students were dead and nine others were wounded, marking the first time that students in the US had been killed during an anti-war rally. It was a shocking introduction to adulthood for us graduates.
Reno calls itself “The Biggest Little City in the World.” We might have been small, but by no means were we unaffected by events that were occurring at the end of the 60s. Looking back 50 years, I’m still surprised at what all we had seen, or participated in, during our years at Wooster High School. It’s as if our time in high school had been marked with confrontation and upheaval that we were too young to even recognize, though with lasting effects.
Most of my graduating class entered school in the fall of 1967 not realizing the depth of change our country would soon embark upon. 1967 has been remembered as the “Summer of Love.” San Francisco, especially the Haight-Ashbury District, became the center of a special moment in time. Hippies and the 60’s provide plenty of material for retro parities today, and many of us look back on those embroidered bell bottoms, beaded necklaces and tie-dyed tshirts with a certain nostalgia now, I suppose. The love didn’t last long.
Our Junior Year—August 1968 the evening television was filled with video of protests in Chicago surrounding the Democratic Convention. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets in what was to become a common occurrence. The next year, on October 15, 1969 the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam saw students from local high schools as well as the University of Nevada join thousands of others in cities across the US, many of us protesting for the first time.
Walking on the Moon
Our time in school was not just marked by protest or social upheaval. There were other events that drew us together, celebrating triumph and accomplishment. On July 20, 1969, the world watched as Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon, fulfilling a promise President Kennedy had made in 1961 to safely land an American on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. To this day, I can’t think of that moment without hearing Sting and the Police singing, “Walking on the moon.”
Perhaps the single greatest event of our high school years, at least for the men, occurred in December 1969. A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1 at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Dates and numbers were called out and posted on a large board. You can watch the CBS video on YouTube here. “Mayberry RFD” was preempted to show the lottery and I’m sure many of us would rather have been watching it. A Wooster graduate whose birthday fell on September 14, number 001, was the first draftee from Reno. (https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/vietnam-lotteries/). Not compelling reality TV by today’s standards, but it certainly had our attention.
Earth Day, April 22, 1970
Though there was plenty to divide us, many of us were brought together when we participated in the first Earth Day. On April 22 protests, rallies, and activities across America helped to bring awareness to and spearhead change in environmental practices. The Earth day website notes that “By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.”
Having the voting age lowered to 18 by President Nixon in 1970 had huge repercussions. “To close his statement on the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) Amendments, RN turned back to the issue of the 18-year-old vote. Anticipating that the court test would rule the provision in question unconstitutional, President Nixon called for an immediate constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18. In July 1971, Congress passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which set the minimum voting age for all Federal, State, and local elections at eighteen years of age.” Nixon Foundation
I’m not sure if there is one singular event or act that could summarize our three years in school. Certainly the deaths of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy shocked all of us and brought an awareness to politics and the civil rights movement that had not existed in our young lives before then. Weekends spent attending, or playing in football games, high school dances, first cars and rock concerts are seemingly shared by every graduating class, each generation. But missing out on your prom and graduation ceremony this year? Well I think that’s one that will go down in the books.