I recently found myself working a problem on the board in Statistics in which two values were subtracted to find the difference that turned out to be 0.1972. As I read the value from the board, reading it as “zero point nineteen seventy two” when I stopped for a second and asked my students “ok, so who else in here remembers 1972?” I expected a wave of groans from people born since 1990, but instead discovered that most of the students in that particular class were close to my age, with several being older. Instead of groans, I heard “oh, that was a fun year” and “I remember it well.” My own memories of the year include those of the political race between Nixon and McGovern and of my fourth grade teacher who shared his thoughts on the matter (upsetting, I am sure, some of the parents of the children in that class.)
The recent publicity of the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil war has brought back memories of not 1972, but 1976 for me, as this was the year of the Bicentennial of the U.S. I remember the lead up to the fourth of July that year being not a year-long process, but one that took several years to unfold. I recall Bicentennial quarters and parades and large fireworks displays and that the celebration seemed to take on a life of its own as we counted down to the final day, the 4th of July. I still laugh at memories of myself in a red, white and blue tutu dancing (on pointe, no less!) to “Stars and Stripes Forever” as part of a dance recital whose theme was, of course, the Bicentennial. I still catch myself sometimes (mis)quoting the line from the film “1776” in which the comrades of John Adams tell him to be quiet by saying repeatedly “sit down, John.” Surely, by the time July 4th, 1976 rolled around, we were all tired of the matter, right?
But the really cool thing about the Bicentennial was that we were not. Despite years of preparation, when the day arrived, the whole country was ready to celebrate. There were more parades and fireworks, and flags waved (and, to my horror, an exceptionally large one was actually stolen from a church near my home.) I remember one newspaper saying that it was as if we threw ourselves a surprise party, as we woke up on that day ready to celebrate, despite what seemed like too much preparation. I also remember one fellow teenager saying to me, with all the hubris that teens tend to have, that she would be 113 years old for the “tricentennial” (as she put it.) Being 13 and, of course, invincible, I don’t think that any of us doubted that we would be there for it. We would be old, yes, but we would be there, with hairstyles that would probably need to be blown dry each morning before we left the house.
As we celebrate another anniversary of the birth of our Nation, I am struck by the fact that my daughter was born after 1976 and will be fairly old in 2076 (and, I am sure, with a hairstyle that will not need to be blown-dry.) And so, until she can experience that anniversary, the best I can do is share memories of that day with her, and ask others to share their own memories. Where were you as our country celebrated its 200th anniversary, and what memories can I pass along to my daughter, and her contemporaries, some of whom did not even get to experience the celebration that became “Y2K”?