High School Halls: The Events that Changed Our Lives

It’s Deep-Fried Friday and time for another sizzling entry in my High School Halls series.

I’ve been sick this week–which got me to thinking about when I was sick in high school. The day that stands out to me most for being sick coincides with an event that changed us. It was the day that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off, and in a day when cable TV was still not very prominent, I spent the rest of the day seeing that event  and related news reports over and over and over.

There are certain national or international events that are so impactful that you can ask people, “Where were you when ______?” and they know. The Challenger explosion is one for me, and it happened my senior year of high school.

That Was Then

The Challenger disaster made such an impact because we had become confident about our space program. Despite the challenges of spaceflight, the United States had never experienced a fatality during a mission before the January 1986 disaster. Seven people died on that shuttle, including six astronauts and one civilian. You see, we Americans had become so confident in our space program that NASA had launched a Teacher in Space Project, choosing social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe from 11,000 applicants to join the crew of the Challenger. The event was publicized even more because of the teacher’s presence on the flight, and I still have an interview with Ms. McAuliffe that I cut out of my Seventeen magazine at the time.

However, our country drew a collective gasp when less than three minutes into the flight, the shuttle disintegrated in the atmosphere. Along with adults around the country, classrooms of school children watched the event live or in special reports. I was not in a classroom, though; I was at home on my couch watching it all happen and wondering what it all meant.

In addition to the Challenger disaster in 1986, there were several major news stories that changed how we viewed our world, ourselves, or others. Here are some of the major events of the 1980s:

1980: 50 countries, including the USA, boycott the summer Moscow Olympic Games
1981: President Reagan is shot by John Hinckley but survives the bullet wound
1981: Prince Charles and Princess Diana marry in the wedding of the decade
1986: The Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Union explodes
1986: The Iran-Contra Scandal is brought to light and hearings begin
1987: The stock market takes a plunge on “Black Monday”
1989: The Exxon Valdez tanker spills millions of gallons of oil off the Alaskan coastline
1989: The Berlin Wall falls (or better put, is torn down)

This Is Now

High schoolers from the 1980s remember where they were for some or all of the above events, but teens since then recall different major news stories from their high school years. Perhaps it was the Oklahoma City Bombing (1995), Princess Diana’s death (1997), the shooting at Columbine (1999), the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City (2001), or Hurricane Katrina (2005).

What are the current headlines that will spark teens to recall where they were when they heard or saw that news story unfold? Perhaps the historical election of our first black president in the United States (2008) will qualify. The death of Michael Jackson (2009) certainly got its share of play on news programs at the time. Maybe the death of Osama Bin Laden or the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (2011) captured the attention of teens.

Then again, maybe it was the release of the new iPhone several days ago.

What events will remain the collective memory of teenagers and become a part of their high school reminiscence? What news stories will change their view of the world around them or of themselves?

What major news event(s) do you recall happening during your high school years? Where we you when _____? What recent events impact high school students today?

Sources: The History Channel; CBS News; USA Today; Time.com; WorldNews.about.com; Huffington Post; Wikipedia

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13 thoughts on “High School Halls: The Events that Changed Our Lives

  1. I’m sure my son will recall when the iPhone 5 came out since he’s using my upgrade on October 8th to buy one! And the election of Obama from President will probably be something they remember. Twin Towers is too far away for either of them to recall. That’s a biggee for me, though. I was in bed and my husband came in and said I had to see what was on the news. Then, the second tower was hit. I kept my kids home from school.

    1. The events in adulthood that stand out to me are Princess Diana’s death and the Twin Towers. Odd, huh? My kids only know the towers based on how much they’ve been talked about.

  2. I have vague memories of watching the Berlin Wall being torn down. I was in Junior High and my social studies teacher turned the television on for all of us to watch, with some words to the effect of “This is social change. Pay attention to this.”
    I also remember watching the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict. It was a similar situation where we were all in a classroom watching the news.
    Years later, both sets of memories are sort of mixed up in my head, along with the idea that building a city and tearing one apart can look an awful lot alike.
    I don’t really know what my daughter will come away with in terms of unforgettable news events–she’s only seven now–but I’m hoping we’ll have more moon-landing-type events than tragedies in our future. It’d be nice if she’s my age talking about where she was when humans were at our best and not our worst.

    1. How cool that your social studies teacher saw history happening and had y’all watch! The LA riots were really something too, weren’t they? Wild. And yes, I hope that my kids remember some fabulous stuff too.

  3. First thing I thought of when I read the beginning of your post was when Reagan was shot (I’d stayed after school for art club and was on my way out when the news came over the PA). Later, I remember where I was when OJ Simpson led the cops on a chase, and when his trial verdict was announced. My daughter remembers Sept. 11 being announced, even though she was only in first grade. She’s a senior in HS this year – I don’t know if she remembers any big news events. Maybe when Bin Laden was killed.

    Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  4. Though I wasn’t in high school yet, I remember both when Ronald Reagan was shot and when the Challenger exploded. I have vague memories of the Berlin wall being torn down. I also have vague memories of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  5. It was the Oklahoma City Bombing for me. I remember sitting in my senior Physics class at the time of the announcement. We turned on the TV’s to Channel One and watched live coverage. So sad.

  6. I definitely remember the Challenger. I still recall sitting in the cafeteria when I heard about it. I wonder what will stand out for my teens. Maybe the death of Bin Laden. I remember that being big news.
    Great topic Julie.

    1. Thanks, Coleen! You should be glad you were at school when the Challenger exploded. Seeing it again and again on TV was so depressing, and yet somehow I couldn’t turn it off.

  7. Yes, the Challenger, I remember that day. I was in school. so sad. I remember watching the OJ trial in college. My roommate was about to head off to law school, we wasted some fine days watching that mess. Oh, and Princess Diana, I couldn’t sleep that night. I got up and was watching tv when the story broke. 9/11 I was at the dentist and heard the story on my way back to work. I remember a lot of stunned crying that day. Stories like these certainly take you back in time. I can remember those days so clearly. Interesting, Julie.

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