The Mindset List for the High School Class of 1961 by Ron Nief

by Ron Nief

The Mindset List for the Graduating High School Class of 1961

Authors note: For more than two decades the Beloit College Mindset List chronicled the experiences and event horizons of 18-year-old students as they entered college. Created by Ron Nief, director of Public Affairs at Wisconsin’s Beloit College and his Beloit College colleague, Prof. of English Tom McBride, the list was distributed internationally each August as the authors traveled the country speaking and doing interviews.

It was initially intended as a reminder to those faculty facing first- year students to beware of “hardening of the references.” Over the years it became one of the most quoted “back-to-school” references and was cited by Time Magazine as a part of the “American lexicon.”

In 2019, with the authors both retired, they transferred the rights to the Mindset List to Marist College in New York.

Ron and Tom continue to receive requests to create special lists for audiences ranging from students in Mumbai going abroad to study, to a Nashville bride, a decade older than her husband-to-be, who wanted a witty “Mindset Llist” included in her nuptials.

The following list is created as if it had been published in June, 1961. It reflects the worldview and experiences of 18-year-old high school graduates sixty years ago. Hardly a comprehensive list, readers are invited to make additions.

The Mindset List for the Graduating High School Class of 1961

Students celebrating their high school graduation in 1961 were mostly born in 1943.

At the time of their birth, Thomas Watson, chair of IBM, declared that perhaps “there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Also that year, Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince arrived and set the tone for the new generation: “Grown- ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Since the “Boomer” generation dates from right after World War II, members of the Class of 1961, born in the throes of the war, represent the last dying gasp of the Greatest Generation, without doing any of the heavy lifting.

Possible classmates, also born in 1943, were Doris Kearns Goodwin, Newt Gingrich, George Harrison, and Arthur Ashe. And those departing that year to make way for a new generation included George Washington Carver, Nicola Tesla, Edsel Ford, and Beatrix Potter.

…and so, from an imagined publication on June 30, 1961…

Fortunately, The Great Depression had been declared officially over with the year they entered the world. Within a few years, their allowances would exceed what many families had had to live on for a full week during the depression years.

As babes, they were the greatest thing since sliced bread, which was still banned as part of the war effort.

And, if mom needed a new pair of shoes, she’d have to wait. They were still rationed.

Good chance that, as toddlers, dad was a member of the 52/20 Club: $20 a week for 52 weeks to help returning GIs get settled.

While the folks were very excited over their new arrival, they were also pretty grumpy over the government’s decision to start to withhold payroll taxes.

But the future held promise when Time Magazine’s 1943 Man of the Year was George Marshall. Four years earlier it had been Adolph Hitler.

For these students graduating from high school in June, 1961…

The concept of “Teenager” has evolved into a major force, designating a separate state of mind.

Stamps have always cost more than $.02.

They’ve grown up with acronyms like KP, SNAFU, MAD and UNIVAC.

SCUBA fans have always been able to breathe underwater using Jacques Cousteau’s Aqua Lung.

Presidents of the U.S. have always flown in planes, and there have always been jets.

They have always had the latest games, like Chutes and Ladders, and toys like the Slinky.

LSD has always been available for fueling trips.

Hairdos and bugs have always been controlled with aerosol sprays.

Big secrets have always been coming out of a lab in Los Alamos, N.M.

Trips to the nation’s Capital have always included a visit to the Jefferson Memorial and a look at the massive Pentagon.

There has always been an American Broadcasting Co., but the DuMont Television Network, which introduced Jackie Gleason and Bishop Fulton Sheen, didn’t survive into their teens.

They have always known how to pronounce Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Iwo Jima.

Failure to clean their plates at dinner was often met with a parental reminder of the conditions facing the poor children in Europe (and later in China and Africa.)

When the TV showed up in the living room, dad was stuck up on the roof rotating the antenna, shouting “is that any better.” You had to keep the TV lamp on in the room while you were watching or you might go blind.

Parents, sitting in the “dens” of their “ranches” often said they would never vote for a divorced man.

Being called a JD, or accused of smoking “MaryJane” have always been a disgrace for the folks.

“Do it yourself” has become the mantra of the suburban homeowner.

They can’t imagine that the hole in the upper corner of their elementary school desks actually used to hold an inkwell.

They have checked to make sure their Timex would “keep on ticking” and that their Paper Mate pen really could write through butter.

The only burger produced faster than at the local diner is at White Castle.

Citizens of Washington, D.C., have never been able to vote in presidential elections.

The country has always had two southern kings— one in civil rights and one in rock and roll.

“Chip and dip” in that special dish on the TV table has always been central to gatherings at home.

Though they had practiced “duck and cover” in elementary school, they had hardly noticed that those rusting triangular CD fallout shelter signs were vanishing.

Subversives and fluoride are everywhere.

They left Your Hit Parade for Alan Freed on WINS Radio, and the “Doggie in the Window” for a real “Hound Dog.”

Parties have always included nachos and deep-dish pizza.

Their “children’s hour” was shared with Buffalo Bob, Clarabell, and Princess Summerfall Winterspring.

Parents read Dr. Spock before the kids got up, and Dr. Kinsey after they went to bed.

“Expecting” has always been OK; “pregnant” has not.

Radio has steadily been fading into the background, except on the “transistor” at the beach.

Parents generally agreed that even slightly crooked teeth certainly needed braces.

They drove their folks crazy with “Just the facts, ma’am” and “Say the secret word.”

Flouristan in toothpaste meant “Look Mom, no cavities,” and hexachlorophene in soap meant germ-free hands.

There was a good possibility that dealing with their teenaged independence may have driven mom to Milltown.

Superman has always been on the watch for Kryptonite.

Autism has always been diagnosed but never discussed.

Tobacco companies have always been open about the side effects of smoking, but they have always blamed the other brands.

Fortunately, rock and roll came along so that J. Edgar Hoover could stop worrying that Frank Sinatra was being groomed as a new Hitler.

Dad has applied for a Diners Club card but there are rumors of a new BankAmericard credit card, widely available already in California.

Once they got their working papers at age16, they earned at least $1 an hour.

Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks has always been at the Chicago Art Institute.

The concept of the American Musical Theatre has always been recognized, ever since the arrival of Oklahoma on Broadway.

“A vast Wasteland,” “Bay of Pigs,” “Freedom Riders,” and “the military industrial complex” have sparked headlines and much dinner conversation in recent months.

In their ongoing efforts to establish their uniqueness, they can point to the fact that their class year of 1961 was strobogrammatic, indicating that the number was the same when turned upside down. The next one won’t be until 6009. It just proves you really can learn something from reading MAD Magazine.

Camelot will live forever.

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