Oceanside Senior High School 1960 Valedictory Speech

by Gerda I Balding (Kunkel)*

"To face tomorrow with the thought of using the methods of yesterday is to envision life at a standstill.  ... even that which we now do well must be done better tomorrow." [James F. Bell]

Imagine chugging along to the Oceanside Shopping Center in a Model T Ford to pick up a few groceries!  Or try to think of 1500 students packed like sardines in a one room schoolhouse!  Of course we can't because we realize that our poor teachers would be licked before they started, and so would our shopping housewives.  What we do see is that Yesterday's way of life just doesn't hold water in the Oceanside of Today.  How tragic it would be if there were no such thing as progress.  All of us, I am sure, are quite satisfied not to be living in the horse and buggy days, but without progress that is exactly where we would be.

Changes are around us everywhere here in Oceanside. Let us go for a make-believe drive around town and see.  Houses are popping up in empty lots here and there; in fact, whole new streets seem to grow out of nowhere with names that are quite unfamiliar to our old-timers.  As we continue our little excursion, we find that several of our schools are adding on new classrooms, or a gym or an auditorium.  Just from seeing the bare skeleton of concrete and steel we are not quite sure which one it is, but we know it's needed or it wouldn't be there.  We turn another corner and find a park where a barren field used to be.  Suddenly a big, red detour sign spoils our plans.  We peek down the forbidden street and behold another bit of progress.  All in all, we decide, a modern sewerage system is well worth the trouble of a more roundabout way home so we follow the arrow and eventually land on our own familiar street.  If we were to take a similar trip in six months, we could find still more signs of changes because in Oceanside, "Progress is a Very important product!"

If one were to try to picture a community, the simplest way is to look at it as an individual person.  After all, what is a community if it is not a collection of individuals bound up in a neat package?

In its childhood, Oceanside was eager to learn; it tottered on unsure feet just like a little child tripping clumsily with hands outstretched to his daddy.  Oceanside 's "Daddy" was progress, and what a fine father he has been!

Changes come rapidly to the young and so does growth.  Then comes maturity with its wiser, more adult ways.  Our community is now a young adult which has changed for the better while growing up.  When we look at the variety of religious faiths living together, and the different nationalities represented by our people, we realize just how broad Oceanside has become.

After a person reaches adulthood, he is faced with the problems of middle-age; only it needn't be a problem.  The middle-age of a community is the time when it has reached a peak in the efficiency of its working parts and its services to the people.  If it now rests on its laurels there is nothing ahead except old age.  But only a person who rejects changes can grow old; a flexible person retains his youth.

Oceanside wil1 never reach old age because it just isn't the kind of community that becomes an "Old Fogey".  Like the understanding adult, Oceanside remembers what it was like to be young.  It remembers what progress did for it in the formative years.  Because of its good memory and flexible body, Oceanside has captured the secret of perpetual youth.

Now we, the graduates of 1960, are ready to enter the adult stages of our lives.  Wherever we go, whatever we do, we shall never forget the lessons we have learned here.  Watching Oceanside in action has taught us how a good community should function.  We cannot help but be better citizens for it.

We should keep in mind the answer Thorwaldsen, a famous sculptor gave to an admirer, when he was asked which of his works he considered the best; he smiled and said: "The next one."

*ADDENDUM: Sharing this silly speech is humbling.  To spare myself complete embarrassment, I add this:

Aside from strained metaphors and a curious exuberance for Long Island congestion, there is --I believe-- some relationship between the optimism of 1960 and that of our high-tech shift into Y2K.  Sandwiched between the two experiences were 40 years marked by a lost war, public cynicism, and a widening rift between participants in the American Dream and the marginally successful, but also by Human Rights Movements, the end of the Cold War, and a computer revolution.  Ironically, in my speech, the General Electric Company Slogan, "Progress is our most important product!", was paraphrased.

Just recently, some junk mail arrived from a newly diversified General Electric Company, now trying to sell me nursing home insurance (I already have it!) under a NEW slogan, "We bring Good Things to Life."  Perhaps they mean superwoman Martha Stewart's "It's a GOOD THING."  Do we all agree?

A paradigm shift has seemingly taken place from 1960 to 2000.  Instead of a focus on Progress, there is now a focus on Good Things.  Good things aren't, of course, just tangible products.  There are real ethical issues about the quality of things, and of Life itself in the New Millennium.  My wish is that the class of 1960 will put all its successes and resources to work to make a compassionate difference to the Country and to the Planet.

Thanks for your attention as I try to make a "silk purse" out of a "sow's ear" of a speech!   Howard Levy, you'll regret this!  Best wishes, Gerda Kunkel, February 2000.