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by Barry J. Cutler

To the Class of 2065: *

The good news is that you are reading this letter from the coolest class in Cornell history. The Class of '65 was the Centennial Class and was quite special, as you must have heard. Our kids already are taking high school classes about the '60's. They love our style and our music. They are, perhaps, the first generation in modern times that love the music of their parents' era. And with The Beatles and others to select from, why would they feel otherwise?

And it was not just music. During the Viet Nam war build up, we protested, rallied, had sit-ins, sleep-ins, teach-ins and love-ins and helped shape the nation's policy and as well as it's culture. The youth in the 1960's had an influence unprecedented in modern times, perhaps since the Revolutionary period. In our college decade, we saw the first man walk on the moon, the first serious computers, awful assassinations and events that shaped our times. It was an extraordinary time· to be alive.

The bad news is that we are all dead. Statistically, at least, unless one of us has made it to about 123 years old! They say that someone born this week has a good chance of living in three different centuries. It doesn't seem possible. We've made big strides in life expectancy in the second half of the 20th century, but not that good.

Now "cool" versus "dead" is a sobering trade-off, indeed. As I write this, it is hard to believe we won't personally get to see you read these missives, just as you will not believe at your 35th reunion that you won't see the Tercentennial class. However, at some deep down·level, we know it is true. And in that truth was the seed for this time capsule, letter-writing project. We wonder how you will view us and our times. At the same time, we wonder about the original Cornellians and what it was REALLY like for them.

They had a lot in common with us. They experienced an assassination that wrenched the country and shook the world, as we did. They lived through a war that tore the country apart and threatened their life's plans, as we did. They lost a lot of their fr ends senselessly in that war, as we did. Yet we know so little about how they FELT or what their daily lives on the Hill were like. It is a pity that they did not leave their thoughts for us in the Centennial class. What a treasure that would be to peruse!

What you will have in common with us, or them, is hard to predict. In any event, you will know things about which we can merely speculate blindly. You may have answers to the questions that, as happens to every generation, we may never know.

There is still great uncertainty about the truth behind the Kennedy assassination. The issue has fascinated and frustrated us over the years. The whole episode riveted us during our junior year. The use of the very word "assassinated" in the Cornell Sun's extra edition seemed anachronistic. Assassination was something that happened to Lincoln a century earlier. It could not happen to the young, handsome Ivy-League educated President who had awakened the post-World war II youth to public service and social issues and looked too young to be a president. We all know where we were when we heard the news.

How will you view Kennedy and his administration? He was a short-timer. Much of what he started, others finished. History may see him as a minor president, or one with Unfulfilled promise. And thinking objectively, who's to say that's wrong. Some sordid details about his personal and political life are still emerging nearly 40 years after the fact. But he touched the lives of the class of 1965.

Now there is another gigantic mystery that we WILL be able to unravel. Four weeks from today, the date will turn to January 1, 2000. We really do know that the new decade, century, and millennium will not actually start until 20011 but you wouldn't believe the fuss they are making about this one! They call it the Y2Kissue--very clever--and some people act as though the world is coming to an end. They aren’t just the usual crazies who see some cosmic significance in numbers and solar eclipses. This one's got a lot of otherwise sensible people pretty excited. Hoard your money, canned food and water. In three weeks, it will be hard to find toilet paper in the stores. It's always that way for feared crises.

A lot of people are going to feel foolish waking up Saturday morning in a few weeks and finding it is all about the same as it was when they fell asleep the night before. Wouldn't you think those guys who were smart enough to put a man on the moon would have wondered about this issue before 1998? We must look pretty silly too, asking if the world we know will crash down because of a little silicon chip. We'll know all that in about a month from today. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Personally, I don't think anything much will happen.

There are other things you'll discover about our times that would be fun for us to know. As President Clinton's presidency winds down, you'd think by reading some papers and seeing some TV shows that he never did anything except play sexual games with young interns. The Congress actually spent about half a year deciding whether he should be removed from office. Some think it doesn't matter much to his place in history. Others think it does.

What will you make of all this? Well, just so you know, many of us thought it was pretty silly all along. And in case you were wondering about youthful sex and smoking weed and whether anyone ever did that on campus in the 1960's, stop worrying. We did. Of course1 our parents probably didn't, because they were not as cool as we were, just as yours probably weren't as cool as you are. Then again, you read old books about Greeks and Romans and there is a lot that personal stuff that has been around for an awfully long time. Probably just skipped our parents' generation!

What would you ask us if you could? What do we know that would be of value to you? Not what we learned at Cornell, I presume. You've probably learned much more than that by now.

Our current events are your history. It's been said that the main difference between news analysis and history is that historians know how it all .turned out. Ironically, as I noted above, there are more facts YOU will know that we wish we knew than the other way around.

Your math and science--well, what could we tell you? There were slide rules while we were at Cornell. Large computers that filled a small room were just being developed. We could not be of much use there, except perhaps for techno-historians.

But there is one thing we have that you don't--yet. It is the wisdom that comes with 35 years of post-Cornell life. We just had our 35th reunion as I complete this letter (yes, it has been a six-month project). We're not as young and energetic trooping around campus as we once were. Aches and pains are apparent and sometimes they are a topic of conversation (boring).

It is stunning to see what classmates look like at age 56 or so. Some look a lot younger than that; some look a lot older. Some were on the list of deceased classmates. That heightens a sense of the passage of time! Everyone has their stories--of work, family and life experience. It all summons a feeling about the need to do something with your life. And not wait until it’s too late. Go for it while you can. What seems like eternity at age 22 seems so much more elusive, so fleeting by age 55. Where did 35 years go? When the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" was released circa 1968, it seemed impossible to imagine so far into the future. Hah! Of course, we couldn't even imagine that a human being would actually walk on the moon less than a year later.

Classmates at the reunion talked more about their children and, in some cases, grandchildren than they talked about jobs or how much money they had made. Think about that, It's easy to lose sight of what's really important in life. Can you imagine having 18-year old children? Who choose to go to Cornell? Not a single classmate expressed regret about a child who chose to attend Cornell--to the contrary, they all loved the reconnection, the sense of tradition and continuity in life. That stuff gets more i ortant as you get older-¬ especially at reunions.

We've all heard it said, and you probably have too, that college is the best four years of your life. It takes a reunion to drive home how little we appreciated it at the time. We knew it, but we didn't appreciate it. Oh, to have an hour or two of it to live over again. You'll learn to think about that kind of stuff also.

Many classmates had changed careers in their 30's. Some changed in their 40's and 5O's. It seems easier to think you know at age 22 what you want to do with your life than it really is. Times change; we change. If your work is not satisfying, you CAN change. People who learn that and alter their life's plan often can find true joy and surprise. Others who feel locked in and believe that they can't change their career choices can wake up hating life each day. They think, "but I have to keep up with the mortgage; my kids will be in college in a few years, or what do I know about being a counselor?"

In changing jobs, or raising a family, or going about the humdrum of everyday life, you must be able to trust your instincts. You're smart enough to graduate from Cornell. You have a very good idea of what's right and what's wrong, what is satisfying and what isn't. Trust your first impressions--not blindly, of course--but they often turn out to be pretty good. In most of the bad decisions I've made, I can think back and, if I'm brutality honest with myself, I had some inkling that it might not have been the best choice.

So why do we go ahead anyway? Greed? Rationalization? Do we just hope that what we actually know will turn out not to be the case? It's probably a little bit of all of the above. Following your good instincts is good advice--but not as easy to do as it sounds.

Another thing we learn at reunions is to how important it is to stay in touch with your friends. As science and technology create what one author called "Future Shock," it is critical to stay grounded, to have a sense of security and continuity. No one can help you achieve that better than the people with whom you shared major life experiences and with whom you can share memories. Siblings and classmates are two examples. You don't have that many memories at age 22. They get more important--and more poignant--later on. There's the pity. If you create a message in the year 2100 for the Tercentennial Class (sounds hard to imagine, doesn't it), all this will mean a lot more to you then than it does now. How did we not understand that?

Well, now you've not only received a "heads up" about same of the major life lessos you will be learning in the next 35 years, but you've learned it from the coolest class in Cornell history. (In case you didn't figure it out yet, in the vernacular of the 1960's, "cool" was good!). In 35 years or less, try to pass some of your acquired wisdom on to other future Cornellians. And good luck.

P.S. The Millennium? Nothing much really happened! It went from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. pretty much as it has for thousands and millions of years. There's an important lesson in all that. I only wish I were wise enough to understand what it is.


February 10, 2015

About 15 years have passed since that footnote about the Millennium. I have been asked to write a mini-sequel to bring us to the present time.

We are getting closer to you. Those who are reading this in 2065 will start being born in about 28 years. I imagine that is one activity that won’t change much, but who knows?

A lot has happened in 15 years. For one thing, terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Not even two years after being afraid of a computer bug, we got hit by terrorists who hijacked large U.S. airplanes and flew them into target buildings in New York and Washington, D.C. They suspect it was planned to be a whole lot larger, but all planes flying in the U.S. were ordered grounded immediately and it is believed that there were several other hijackings planned that were aborted by alert thinking.

Here is the irony in modern terrorism. Fifteen years ago we thought that out-of-control computers were going to disrupt our lives. After a lot of time with plane incidents and other on-the-ground bombings, you know what some people are most afraid of today? Computer stuff all over again. This time it is not because of bad software but because of little computer bugs that are intentionally put into big computers to do a lot of damage. You must know this very well.

In the beginning, computers were great places to write and store things, especially in university settings. Then the computers started doing things—-big complicated things—-like keeping track of hundreds of millions of banking transactions or turning off the lights and controlling water flow in big cities. Computers keep track of every airplane in the skies to make sure they have their own pathways. They say that, someday not far off, we will be getting into cars and telling them where to go and they will automatically take us there. If it works, a lot of lawyers will need to find other things to do. Of course if it doesn’t work—-there will be a lot of busy ones.

We have flying things called drones. They fly around without pilots because they are controlled by—-yup, computers! They have big ones with bombs that can be controlled without a live pilot and drop a bomb or missile with pinpoint accuracy. But now they already are making little drones, a foot or less in size, that can be used efficiently to deliver packages, or hold little cameras to keep track of people. In fact, little drones are flying around football fields and basketball courts to give a birds-eye-view of players close up. A lot of them are going to be crowding into small spaces and collide or otherwise crash on the ground. What will that be like?

You must be laughing because you know how it all turned out. We can hardly imagine what electronic and other gadgets you will have doing your daily work and leaving time to play. We are learning some ourselves—--phones that can unlock a door or change the heat and lights in a house 200 miles away. Drones and Phones will be changing the world, for better or for worse. You may decide which.

Our families have changed quite a bit as well. Of course, quite a few classmates had grandchildren in 2000, but much more today. Funny, but when we wrote yearbook stories for our 25th reunion, there was a lot about jobs and where we had travelled. Now we are older and a lot of us have grandchildren that are getting bigger and ready to take over the world. Come to think of it, some of those grandchildren may be having some of you in about 28 years. That is pretty cool to think about.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Some people thought that I should not have talked about “cool” in my first letter 15 years ago. They thought it was out-of-date and not representative of our modern slang. I thought it was fine. Besides, when I see an old classic car and say, “what a cool car,” my wife and children know exactly what I mean. I think my grandkids will also. Now some words, like “nifty,” have bit the dust, but I think the great ones will hold their own. Do you guys still use “cool?” I hope so.

Many classmates who were around 15 years ago aren’t here anymore. That number will continue to grow. We think about it a lot more. We want to stay healthy and have fun as long as possible. And see our grandchildren grow up. Somehow we understand that they will be in their prime in not that many years and that we won’t and that is the way it is supposed to be. And as I said, many of them will be your parents or grandparents. Now THAT is really cool!

Our classmates are sending in biographical information and essays for the 50th Reunion yearbook we will be publishing in a few months. It is fascinating to read about how they have spent their lives, living and working in large cities and small towns or moving all around the world with their chosen fields and family arrangements. Engineers, Arts & Sciences, Agriculture students and architects have such varied lives and many of them could not have been predicted when they graduated in 1965.v

You may think you know what you want to do for the next 35 years, but many of you will be surprised to see where you wind up. Problems, opportunities and plain luck have a way of jumping onto the straight lines we planned for ourselves. Look at 55 year old adults who are doing things you find exciting and ask, “how many of them could have predicted what they would be doing 33 years after Cornell graduation?”

That may be the greatest lesson we can give you for 2065. Plan and start out, but look at what comes along out of the blue as you go on your way. Where many of you will wind up will surprise you and others. Then you will learn that it wasn’t the destination that ultimately counted, but the challenge of the journey along the way.


* This letter was written by classmate Barry J. Cutler in December. 1999, for a time capsule that the Centennial Class was preparing for the Bicentennial Class of 2065. As our class approached its 50th Reunion celebration, Barry wrote the sequel that updated the letter as of February 10, 2015 .