Jerry Nelson: It's going to be something!

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

Many of this spring’s graduation plans have been kyboshed by the coronavirus situation. Which is too bad because graduation is a young person’s best opportunity to harvest cash from friends, neighbors, relatives, and even random strangers you happen to pass on the street.

This will certainly be a memorable and historic graduation season. As we often say here in the Midwest, “It’ll be something.”

There will always be something.

My brief sojourn on this planet is an illustration. When I was born, our nation’s flag had only 48 stars; Alaska and Hawaii weren’t admitted to the union until I was two years old. Expanding our country was something to celebrate but if I attended a Welcome Alaska and Hawaii festivity, I don’t recall it. It must have been quite a party.

I was in first grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember watching the black-and-white funeral procession on TV and seeing my mother weep for a man she had never met. That was something awful.

In 1968, when I was in sixth grade, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were gunned down. We gaped at televised footage of the ensuing riots that erupted in some of our nation’s major cities. National Guard and Federal troops were called in to quell the unrest. Images of armed troops and armored vehicles patrolling American streets was something I won’t forget.

But 1968 also gave us something thrilling and memorable. The Apollo 8 astronauts became the first humans to leave our planet and orbit another celestial body. The photos they sent back from the moon that showed our little blue marble suspended in the vastness of space were really something.

Two years later, when I was in eighth grade, four unarmed Kent State University students were killed by National Guard troops during a rally to protest our nation’s increasing involvement in the Vietnam War. The snapshot of a wailing female student kneeling over her fallen friend is something I will never forget.

August of 1974 saw President Richard “I am not a crook!” Nixon resigning at the height of the scandal that came to be known as Watergate. This led to the universal practice of the -gate suffix being tacked onto the name of anything that’s the least bit shameful. A good example would be when I forgot to latch the opening to a cow pen and all of our Holsteins got out. This was something that came to be known in our family as Cattle-gate.

In April of 1975, a few weeks prior to my high school graduation, Saigon fell to North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces. This ended the long national nightmare of our involvement in the Vietnam War, which had claimed more than 58,000 Americans lives. I grew up watching a steady televised drumbeat of body bags being loaded onto waiting helicopters. This was something I knew I wouldn’t miss.

Historically speaking, there’s always been something. One of my grandfathers and one of my great-uncles fought in WW I. My grandparents and their young children struggled to survive the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties only to be shocked by the thunderbolt of Pear Harbor. My father joined the Navy and was sent to the South Pacific where his duties included shooting at kamikaze airplanes that were shrieking toward his battleship.

My father-in-law and one of my uncles served during the Korean Conflict. I have a cousin who was drafted and sent to Vietnam.

We presently have a nephew who is an Army nurse and has spent quality time in some overseas “hot spots.” We have a niece who is a pediatric ICU nurse and has been caring for some of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

But there’s always something to lift one’s spirits during times such as these. I recently met a dairy farmer who, despite severe financial struggles, nonetheless found it in his heart to donate hundreds of gallons of milk to his local food pantry.

Graduating doesn’t just involve spiking the ball, dancing a jig in the end zone and opening a cache of cash-filled cards. What happens next is something called “life.”

As the past several months have proven, nobody can predict what life will bring. I certainly had no idea what was in store that long-ago May day when I strode across the stage, received my high school diploma, and immediately checked to see if it had been signed. Much to my relief, it was. There had been some serious doubts.

Congratulations to everyone who is part of this year’s remarkably historic graduation! And while I don’t know what the future might hold, I can guarantee this: it’s really going to be something.

Jerry Nelson