EILEEN FITZGERALD, The News-Times
DANBURY, Conn. (AP) — Persevere. Learn social skills. Choose a job you’ll like. Be your best self, not someone else.
The advice for this year’s high school graduates comes from their predecessors 50 years ago.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Beatles arrived in the United States. It was the cusp of the Vietnam War, a conflict that changed a country’s consciousness.
After graduation, the Class of 1964 set out on vastly different journeys, paths that led to valuable lessons to share with the Class of 2014.
Newtown High School graduate Anne Housh Roberts’ trade of education for glamour brought her success and fulfillment.
After a year at Springfield College with plans to become a social worker, Roberts’ life took a quick turn when she landed a job modeling for the Chevrolet Car of the Future national ad campaign.
For a year, she traveled with O. J. Simpson and Jean-Claude Killy, promoting the company in astronaut costumes that put them in a Playboy issue — fully dressed.
The campaign kicked off a 25-year television and print modeling career with clients such as Revlon and CoverGirl.
“It’s been a phenomenal career. It gave me the luxury of being a mom for two boys and doing something fun,” Roberts said from her home in Colorado.
The 67-year-old mother of two and grandmother of one is firm in her advice to graduates.
“Try to accept who you are, knowing you will only get stronger and brighter as you go out in the world,” Roberts said. “As Judy Garland said, ‘Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.'”
Roberts wants graduates to be confident they can make a difference in the world, whether in their hometown, their workplace or their country.
She admits her success was a combination of luck, being in the right place at the right time, and attitude.
“It’s the attitude that you’re going to win some and lose some,” she said, “but give it all you’ve got and be true to yourself.”
It wasn’t all easy, Roberts said, especially after a divorce. But in her 50s, she landed a three-year print and television modeling contract for Oil of Olay and developed a cabaret act that she performed at the acclaimed Algonquian Hotel in New York.
“It proved that life doesn’t have to stop when you get a little bit older. You can reinvent yourself,” Roberts said.
Now, she lives in the mountains and raises money for charities.
“If you believe you can, you can make it happen,” Roberts said. “I still believe it.”
Richard Peagler was an enthusiastic student at New Milford High School. He was class president for three years and an athlete.
Although he wasn’t sold on college as he prepared to graduate in 1964, Peagler thrived in higher education. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and earned a doctoral degree in counseling at Syracuse University.
He spent 38 years in academia at the State University of New York at Cortland.
The 67-year-old Peagler, who is married and has a son, had a lot of ideas about what graduates should hear, but one bit of advice stood out for him.
“Strive to do the best you can, no matter what you do,” Pealger said.
A strong work ethic and interpersonal skills to communicate with co-workers are essential, too.
“I also would tell them you have to have integrity and a level of honesty on the job because whatever you do, you want to be a person people can trust,” he said.
Peagler retired last year as the director of the Student Development Center at SUNY-Cortland, where he oversaw counseling, career, health and disability services, and substance abuse prevention. His career of distinction came from a combination of coincidence and talent.
Peagler moved from Detroit to New Milford when he was 6 years old. He said he hated the woods and missed the street lights and was facing the reality of being one of only a few African-American students in school.
In his teen years at New Milford High School, he first dipped his toe in the field that become his career.
At 15, he was hired by the New Milford Parks and Recreation Department to work with 5- to 9-year-old children. At 16, he worked with 12- to 18-year-old youngsters. He wanted to be a role model for students of color and those from poverty.
One important lesson for graduates, he said, is “if you want to study hard, you can go anywhere you want to go.”
George Mulvaney attended Ridgefield High School before transferring to J. M. Wright Vocational Technical High School in Stamford.
Since his 1964 graduation from Wright, Mulvaney has built two businesses — Mulvaney Mechanical, heating and plumbing contractors, and Mulvaney Properties. He has been honored for his decades of work on behalf of area nonprofit organizations.
The 67-year-old father of two and grandfather of three believes that the drive and desire to accomplish tasks are as important as education.
“Hard work and perseverance will get you success and obviously a little bit of good luck,” Mulvaney said. “You don’t have to be an Ivy League college graduate. This is a great country.”
Even if graduates are well educated, he said, they won’t succeed if they don’t apply themselves.
“I suppose I’m a prime example of what you can accomplish with hard work and dedication,” the Ridgefield resident said.
Bethel High School graduate Jeffrey Morhardt had a different lesson to impart to graduates.
“I think my advice would be to go forth and fail, and don’t be afraid of it,” Morhardt said.
The 68-year-old Morhardt joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from college and served as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. When he returned in 1971, he tried the insurance business but it didn’t work out, and he returned to college for his law degree.
Morhardt, the father of two and grandfather of three, lives in Virginia and retired as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Education.
College is not the only path for students, he said, and good practical courses in high school can help a lot of kids hit the ground running after graduation.
He said they can always go back to school for more training. They shouldn’t expect life to be easy.
“I had an interesting life. It had ups and downs like everybody else,” he said. “There was some smooth sailing, but some very rough waters, too.”
Information from: The News-Times, http://www.newstimes.com
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