Growing up in Claremont in the '50s and '60s was a whole different ballgame than today. The world was less digital but felt a lot larger and certainly more mysterious. Claremont only had around 10,000 inhabitants and neighborhoods were the primary universe for most kids. We rode our bikes far and wide under the parental dictum of "be back in time for dinner." Community and neighborhood interactions were the center of life, creating a sense of fellowship and understanding that sometimes feels lost in today's fast-paced, tech-driven world.
Ethics and integrity were taught face-to-face, often through hard life lessons or wisdom passed down from older generations of mostly WWII veterans who became our scoutmasters or coaches. We learned the value of a handshake and the importance of keeping our word.
The diversity we see today is incredible. Back then, the country was also diverse, but the conversations around diversity were different, less evolved. Today, with the world at our fingertips, there's a more vigorous and nuanced conversation about embracing and celebrating our differences. We've made leaps in understanding the different experiences that people go through, and that's helped us connect diverse perspectives in a way that was hardly imaginable back in the day.
Our parents opened the world to us by hosting Rotary exchange students from other countries. Franz from Austria, Henry from Norway, Nellie from France. As each of us kids left for college or the military, our rooms were given over to exchange students. Bill was from Oxnard but studying at the Claremont Colleges. Dari was a Rotary exchange student from Cambodia. He later returned to his home where he was killed in the troubles there. Peter came from Switzerland and Margarita was from Bogota, Columbia. Each brought their views and culture to share with our family. That tradition is still being carried on by my sister in Eugene.
They also pulled us out of school for more than a month to drive the length of Mexico, down the west coast, across to Vera Cruz and back up the east coast. A family of six crammed into an old Pontiac station wagon; we did it twice in three years. Each time, we absorbed the music, food and culture but also gained an appreciation of what we had in the United States.
If you wanted to contribute to society during that time, options were somewhat limited compared to today. Rotary was one vehicle and my Dad spent many a weekend with his club members rebuilding houses for the seasonal workers who picked the oranges and lemons. Now, with the digital era, the opportunities to apply vocational expertise and make a positive impact are boundless. Through social media, crowdfunding, and virtual meetings, we can solve social issues that extend far beyond our immediate communities.
Despite the challenges we face in modern times, the technological advances and social progress make this a fascinating era. Our ability to adapt and persevere allows us the opportunity to find lasting solutions to systemic problems both at home and abroad. And the movements for social justice and equality that began in the '60s and '70s laid the groundwork for the progress we see today.
But the essence of what makes life meaningful hasn't changed: our connections with each other. In the "olden days" of my youth, we built lifelong relationships in their neighborhoods and local communities. Today, we do the same, but now our communities are both physical and virtual. When we engage in community service, or connect with someone whose background is different from your own, we're adding meaning and purpose that feels just as good now as it did back then.
It's inspiring to realize that regardless of the decade, our desire for fellowship, understanding, and making a positive impact remains constant. Even though the ways we navigate the world have changed, the core human experiences that bind us together have not. And that's something that's meaningful and incredibly hopeful.