The month of May is typically filled with thoughts of graduation, matriculation and entrance to working world by a band of eager graduates. Family and friends gather to cheer accomplishments and anticipate a new chapter of life by the alumnae. This year, dampened by a pandemic, festivities are expected to change from large gatherings to virtual ceremonies. However, even with such dramatic modifications to this rite of passage, graduation continues to present a host of opportunities to another generation.
The 1967 movie “The Graduate”, based on a novel written in 1963 by Charles Webb, relates the angst and ambiguity of a recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock, facing the daunting next step toward whatever the future holds for him. Several scenes are especially poignant and noteworthy in today’s environment. At a party held to celebrate his graduation, Ben is besieged by well-wishers who have little appreciation of his dilemma but welcome him to what he considers their vapid and artificial existence.
The solid upper middle-class existence of his parents is unattractive to Ben, but he is at a loss for a personal solution. During the party, a family friend, Mr. McGuire, offers a one-word prophecy: “plastics”. Wrapped within the word are characteristics that Ben sees as appalling and anathema: cheap, synthetic and at the time, poor quality. Lured into a meaningless affair entangled with what Ben perceives as true love, the film ends with a happy ending with a twist… is it really a happy ending? Screen writers Buck Henry and Calder Willingham and Director Mike Nichols leave it to the audience to speculate on the ultimate conclusion of events.
Plastics was symbolic of not only some of the tawdry aspects of society, but also its promise for the future. Although the world of the 60s considered plastic items as cheap and poorly constructed, materials and construction have changed dramatically since then and plastic materials are found in almost every corner of manufacturing. Advances in composition and molding procedures have transformed its uses and quality. Plastic has become so ubiquitous that its disposal and recycling problem is a major challenge of the 21st Century.
The story of plastics has implications for our current situation since what is currently viewed as a “novel” virus and its effects on lifestyles will, with time, integrate into common parlance and practice. Current graduates will experience disruption to standard practices but also a peek into the future as well. Just as plastics improved, so too will standard and commonplace doctrines and commodities transform in decades to come. At the present time, the storm clouds of pandemic dominate headlines and thoughts, but just as a graduate of the 60s looked at a world vastly different and transform it, so too will our graduates meet the challenges of 2020.
Good luck and congratulations to the Class of 2020!