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Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

My 50th high school reunion took place in a small town in Pennsylvania. After much consideration, I decided to attend. If not now, when? My initial thought was that I was too young to have graduated high school 50 years ago. I was not alone in my thinking. Let’s talk about reunions.

Family and high school reunions are the most popular, probably because most of us have been members of both. A reunion is defined as a planned event where members of a dispersed group come together to meet.

We definitely were dispersed. Classmates traveled from Germany, Florida, Alaska, South Carolina, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, New York and other regions. Many never moved out of our small town or county.

Most are retired. I was surprised to learn that I was one of the few working graduates. Retirement was the expectation. Most asked me, “Are you still working?” I emphasize the “still.” Retirement was the norm, although that might change, given current economic conditions.

My class is part of the “silent generation,” often referred to as traditionalists, born between 1925 and 1945. We remember World War II from our childhood and stories of the Depression from our parents. We had superheroes as role models and generally expected experts to solve our problems. The majority of us were seeking stability. We were considered the most risk-averse of any generation. Our goal was stability.

In my class, those who went on to college became teachers, therapists, nurses, and engineers. One became a pilot, another a physician and another became a Wall Street stockbroker. Others were farmers, plumbers, insurance salespeople, worked for a local newspaper or owned small businesses.

As adolescents, we were considered the least rebellious and most conforming of any generation. Conformity seemed to be a sure ticket to success. The most daring activities in my class were smoking and sometimes having a beer. After our parents went to sleep, our all girl-pajama parties presented moments to experiment with a cigarette or read aloud a book chapter on sex. That was “living on the edge.”

Our generation of Silents was among the earliest to marry. Men typically were married at 23; women at 20. In my class, some of those early marriages ended in divorce. Our generation is credited with beginning the divorce epidemic. In our formative years, however, the divorce rate was low, there was no (reported) child abuse and alcohol was the source of substance abuse.

We lived during a time of economic prosperity, low inflation and high employment. We also are the smallest generation in number, which is one reason we have been called the Silents. Our mental health was good. The Silents are reported to have the lowest suicide rate of any generation.

We made our contributions to society. Our generation launched the Peace Corps, the civil rights and women’s movement, wealth in the arts, advances in science and technology and more. We produced three first ladies: Jacqueline Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush, as well as four decades of presidential aides. We have no presidents from the Silent generation.

What drives us to return, to reminisce and review the formative years of our lives? The return is more than a physical return. We found there was much to think about – our current lives, where we have been, the influence of our early experiences and relationships, and relating those experiences to our current lives. These thoughts kept many of us awake at night. James E. Birren, former Dean of USC’s Andrus Gerontology Center and Professor Emeritus, has said, “You don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”

Midlife is a good time to make sense out of our lives. And there are tools available to help. One example is guided autobiography. See the book Where to Go from Here: Discovering Your Own Life’s Wisdom in the Second Half of Your Life by James E. Birren and Linda Feldman (Simon & Schuster 1997) or go to

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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