As I thought about what I could talk about that would pull together the last 50 years of our lives, I searched for a theme that would be the equivalent of the Higgs-Boson Grand Unifying Theory. What was the glue that held our lives together? I quickly concluded that would be a near-impossible goal, so I settled on a more organic approach to the task.
The first observation I made was that the year we graduated, 1964, was the 50th reunion year of the class of 1914. I started to think about whether the changes in those 50 years were more or less tumultuous than the changes between 1964 and 2014. How could we measure them? I thought mostly about the wars that have defined our last century and concluded that we seemed to live our lives against a backdrop of violence, both at home and abroad.
There were so many perspectives we could use to view our experiences as Barnard women. How had the lives of women changed during those periods? And how had technology influenced those changes? And population growth? And environmental degradation? And on and on.
Finally, I thought about trying to identify what influences had been most Important to our decision-making in 1964 and the decade after. How could I situate us in the society of 1964?
I thought about the intellectual currents of that time. I remembered, or rather I've never forgotten, that at the start of sophomore year, we were required to read two books, and attend a school-wide program which included a lecture. I couldn't remember precisely which books were assigned, so I wrote to the Barnard Archivist to see if she could find any reference to this assignment. She thought it was an interesting question, and responded a couple of weeks later by identifying an article in the Barnard Bulletin of that time. Two books were involved: The Lonely Crowd, by David Reisman, and Protestant Catholic Jew by Will Herbert. I don't know how many of you remember that little exercise, but those books were important to me, because they helped me to unravel my own sense of personal identity. Settling on ones identity was not a trivial exercise. As a third generation American Jew—first generation to go to college—I wasn't secure in the idea of who I really was, what direction I should or could go, or how far my expectations could reach. So, thinking about the idea of inner-directedness, outer-directedness, other-directedness was a useful framework for me.