Imagining tomorrow’s world circa 1957

Deacon Blog


In University Advancement we’re packing boxes in Reynolda Hall for our move to a building behind the law school later this month. That means most of us are sorting files, recycling papers and happening upon treasures like this June 1957 edition of “the Wake Forest Magazine” that I found in a glass case in the hallway.

Kitty Booth (’57) of Morganton jumped for joy after exams.

This bit of history includes the 1957 speech by Alumni Association President John R. Knott (’23) at the senior class breakfast on Commencement Day in which he proclaimed that seniors would be taking their place in “a fascinating yet impersonal world — a world, if you please, that invites you, that will challenge you, a world that desperately needs you.”

Knott wondered, “What will your world of tomorrow be like?”

I’ve compiled highlights from his list of prognostications:

• Every year a population equal to Maryland’s will be added to the country.

• By 1987, half the working population will be working on goods and services that today are unknown.

• Your world “will gradually emerge as a clean world, for the soot and smoke will disappear as atomic energy takes over the job now being done by coal and oil.”

• Space “will yield all of her secrets to those of you who dare to fly into the unknown.”

• Cancer will be “completely conquered. You are to witness and play a part in this achievement.”

• The human heart will be “trained to beat longer in the human body. You will help bring this about.”

• Slums will disappear, thanks to your being “the magicians” who will provide “the touch” to change the appearance of American cities.

“Your world of tomorrow will pay a premium on integrity and character,” Knott said, adding a quote from Peter Drucker: “What will be decisive above all, in the future even more than in the past, is neither education nor skill; it is integrity of character.”

In the world of tomorrow, Knott said, “sons” of Wake Forest College will be meeting each other at the corner drugstore, on the church steps, over an operating table, in a business deal and on a golf course. “They will be engaged in endeavors similar to yours — that of making the world a better and happier place in which to live … (W)henever they meet, wherever they meet, there’s a lift to the spirit, there’s a quickening of the pulse, there’s a light in the eyes, for Wake Forest men are together!”

He failed to mention the obvious fact (see 1957 magazine cover) that there were at least a few women around. The magazine noted that the West Dormitory for women would be named to honor Miss Lois Johnson, “the first and current dean of women.” Indeed, 1957 was a time of firsts, including the first Commencement for Wake Forest on the new campus.

As I observe how the Quad is being readied for Commencement all these years later, and as I prepare to say goodbye to seniors I have come to know, teach and admire, it all makes me wonder: Seniors, what will your world of tomorrow be like?

I hope there’s a lift to your spirit and light in your eyes when you meet fellow Wake Foresters (“sons” and “daughters” of WFU) in a business deal, on the church steps, at the corner drugstore and beyond, from Paris to Beijing, to the hamlets of Indonesia and to the villages of Ethiopia. I hope you change the world for the better because the world desperately needs you. (See Knott’s list of unfinished business.) Above all, may you be as happy all the days of your life as Kitty Booth, who on a spring day in 1957 leapt for joy at Wake Forest.

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