Libby Sisk's Address

At our Commencement ceremony in Memorial Stadium on June 13, 1969, our class valedictorian, Libby Sisk, addressed the class with Challenges. 50 years later, during our class reunion dinner. She again addressed the class with Challenges - Our Report Card.

[Note: The previous speech posted here was a draft version. Below is the final version, as delivered.]


  What fun to be here with everyone!  It truly is an honor to be up here.  Apparently I still can’t say no because when Myke called and asked me to say a few words, I said “yes” before having any idea about what I might be saying.  I certainly didn’t want to be the cold water on a great party, so I’ll make it brief!

  Where do we begin?  It occurred to me the logical starting point would be where we left off those 50 (can you believe it???) years ago, on the football field.  So I pulled out my notes from that evening– they almost crumbled in my hands!  Typed on my trusty Smith-Corona portable typewriter, and reminded myself of what we talked about then, where we were, and where we were going, if we even knew. 

  Because this is still “school”, it seemed like the right time to give ourselves a report card. The question is what we’re grading.  In my mind, seeing where we’ve been and assessing it isn’t a matter of how much money anyone has made, or how many degrees they have after their names.  It’s much more fundamental.  It’s about who we are as people, parents, grandparents, and contributing members of our communities.

 We were very protected, and thankfully so, at Napa High, but we graduated in turbulent times.  We left our secure high school for a trip seemingly without a road map.  The rules were changing everywhere. For me, one experience underscored the difference in our Ozzie & Harriet lives and what was to come.  During our senior year I went to Berkeley for a Bank of America awards interview and ceremony.  I think Brian Linsenbardt was there as well.   I showed up for the interview that morning in my little lime green linen A-line dress with my daisy pin and white patent leather shoes, looking about as innocent as anyone could be!  I met my sister for lunch on the Cal campus and she suggested we “see what was going on” down on Telegraph Avenue.  Against my better judgment I agreed – we ended up in the middle of tear gas, pepper gas, gun shots and total chaos as the People’s Park protest erupted in what came to be known as Bloody Thursday.  To say I was in shock is an understatement -  I kept thinking don’t they know I’m not one of those protesters– so why is that pepper gas hitting me?  I attended the evening banquet in a daze.  At that point I realized there was no avoiding that changing world out there – my lime green linen dress and daisy pin would not protect me! 

  So we grew up in the Age of Innocence in a very wonderful way and were abruptly thrust into a confusing and changing time.  We were at the end of the Baby Boomer generation where things had cruised along very predictably.   Then as we graduated, the world quickly changed. Our nation landed on the moon that year.  Woodstock “happened” and the Flower children blossomed.  People began to question our government and its decisions.  Women’s Liberation questioned the roles of women and men. In the last 50 years, we went from the Cleavers to Modern Family with lots of assumptions and traditions being challenged and changing as we went, which is not to say it was all bad or good – probably a mix for most people – but the question is how we handled all of those challenges.  As I learned in Powder Puff football (cornerback here!) for the Rose Exterminators – we, metaphorically, had to keep our knees flexed and be ready for anything!

  Which brings me back to my tattered notes from that graduation night –  without claiming any great insight, my topic was Challenges – and we had them coming at us from every direction. So as our report card goes, how did we do? This is every student’s dream – self-grading!  I thought we might look at ourselves through the lens of some of those challenges we talked about on that graduation night – including -

  Not to be afraid to show respect for your parents, your flag, your religion, your goals or yourself.  We can all judge ourselves on this one and look around the room to know we definitely get an “A”.  I’ve read through many of the Classmate Profiles, and am so impressed with what everyone has done and continues to do and how we view the world  - which doesn’t mean everyone sees things the same way. We became proud adults and proud of our own children. We have ministers. We have those who served our country courageously and those who respectfully objected. What’s impressive to me is that we all jumped in, grappled with the new issues, embraced the world, and respectfully defined ourselves.  The times let us expand our options and encouraged us to own and respect our choices and those of others.

  Another challenge noted that night - Not to criticize unless you are willing to help – again, I think from our education and years in Napa, we learned not to sit back, but to make the world better and to pitch in.  We were active in service clubs, sports, and our own school – always trying to improve things.  The sort of “can do” approach we learned in school with activities like music, sports, and student government taught us well and translated into making us involved and committed parents and citizens.

  Also raised as a challenge that night -To do what you want to do and can do best – then be proud of it.  Looking at our Classmate Profiles I was struck by the diversity of experiences and strengths.  We have excelled in physical and mental health care, education, science, law, music, art, public service, business, construction, being stay at home parents, and, some brave souls, in the world of technology. Some found their talents and passion sooner than others - Some took several roads and didn’t feel limited to only one – more power to them! Above and beyond professional accomplishments, what shines through is the fact that everyone has proudly left their mark on the world by raising terrific children, and being committed partners, spouses and great friends.

  Finally, one of the challenges mentioned that night was to stand up for what you believe and to question that which you know to be wrong – What I think this revolution we’ve experienced taught us all is not to unquestioningly accept ideas but to explore and understand what we believe and why.  There’s nothing wrong with the status quo but the times encouraged, and forced us, to look deeper into our beliefs to make them our own, and not to simply accept what we were told.  I’m reminded of the best teacher I ever had (outside of music with Andy Cottle!), in all of my years of education – Mr. Van Vuren in biology at Napa High, who, in response to almost any answer a student would give, would look down (he was super tall!) and follow up with – “WHY?” As exasperating as that sometimes seemed, he taught me and everyone else to truly think - a lesson that went far beyond that classroom. Among other things, learning to question allowed us to re-examine our assumptions about women and men, and their roles and strengths, as well as to examine other stereotypes.

  We also found the courage to speak up when something was wrong - to honor that “voice inside us” that we all have, that reflected our true moral code, rather than to go along with the crowd.  We learned to be open to new ideas and views and to listen to others.  I’m convinced our time together gave us the foundation for that flexibility and the ability to have thoughtful discussions about difficult subjects as the landscape changed around us.

  When we graduated, although it didn’t seem as if we had a road map for those confusing times, we actually had something more valuable – the tools to create our own paths. Like Dorothy and her fellow travelers, we discovered we had brains, heart and courage. With that foundation, in the last 50 years, we have become creative, thoughtful, productive, dedicated, involved, and passionate - strengths which I hope will allow us all to find satisfaction and joy in all of the years to come.

  So how did the Class of ’69 do on it’s 50th report card?  I’ll let you decide, but from my perspective, we nailed it! 

  Thank you - let’s have fun tonight!