June
23rd 2010
Notes from the class of 1960, Dartmouth College

Posted under: American history, students

‘Tis the season of college reunions!  Today’s post is a short essay on the occasion of a fiftieth college reunion the author attended a few weeks ago.  (Some of you may remember that I posted a few thoughts on my twentieth reunion last month.)  I thought his observations about college then and now, and his concluding thoughts on the importance of the college years and college mentors might be of interest to many of you.

In 1960 my college in the pines in northern New Hampshire was all-male and isolated. Interstate highways were just a dream. Road trips to women’s colleges were a way of life. This common bond fostered very close alumni and frat brothers – who for years after graduation would often hold mini-reunions and vacation together. This back-to-the future time warp sometimes seemed odd. Alcohol abuse was a problem; weed and street drugs were non-existant. Every few years, prior to major reunions, a professional scrapbook MUSINGS would contain the thoughts of most of our class of 800. The reading was fascinating, funny, and often weird.

One outstanding event at the college in the late 1950s was the Freshman “Great Issues” (a.k.a. “Grey Tissues”) course  – every Monday night a prominent person was invited to speak. In 1956 the list included Adelaide Stephenson, Clement Attlee, and Robert Frost. Our silent generation was unaware of the explosive change that civil unrest, war, coeducation, and sexual liberation would bring only a decade later. But two events come to mind:  our college chapter, along with some California and Wisconsin chapters, were unable to delete a discriminatory clause from the bylaws of our national fraternity. Blocked by a southern vote, we were forced to go local. On another occasion I watched as members of a Jewish fraternity, sitting in the balcony of the college auditorium, tomatoed a neo-Nazi visiting professor off the stage and into his car. Wow. In 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy stopped by during his Presidential campaign to talk and answer questions. 

Twenty four of us were cherry-picked to enroll in our two-year medical school.  We were very close then and even more so over fifty years.  Our dean commanded us to always wear coat and tie. Dr. Savage told us to watch for patients with green pee during asparagus season and other pearls from his life as a rural G.P.

Fifty years later we tearfully embrace roommates we have not seen in decades. Our conversations dwell on artificial body parts, grandchildren, longevity, and grandchildren. Some jog well, others walk with canes or move in electric carts. Our wives hear stories never before told. At least 120 have died. In MUSINGS, classmates often gave thanks and testimonials to professors. Some 1960s touted their business achievements- one publicly admitted he was a former S.O.B. alcoholic who treated his children poorly. Our gay class president told of his decades-long angst before his sexuality became public.  One classmate boasted of fathering twins at 56.  (There was no comment from his first wife.)  Our class gave 32 million over the last six years- mostly for scholarships.

My medical school classmates did not retire particularly wealthy. One died of HIV.  They are all altruistic – one plastic surgeon has made multiple trips to poor counties to repair cleft lips and palates. One friend is a nationally known neurosurgeon – who does pro bono surgery in semi-retirement.

On campus, coeducation has proven beneficial to both students and college – despite mutterings from classmates. One coed local fraternity now sponsors a fantastic array of projects – such as Big Brother/Big Sister, prison literacy, and battered women programs.  The tri-semester system and overseas programs make lasting friendships more difficult. Dorms now sport gyms and mega flat screens. There are dining halls to accommodate any special food wish. Alcohol and now drugs are still a problem. Students sell or share ADHD and other prescription meds.  Interestingly, the new president of the college wants to reinstitute Great Issues.  

I tend to be a glass half full type of person and this all may sound a bit Pollyannaish – but here are the take-home messages.  Students do remember mentors – often fondly. They can make a huge difference. College’s life lessons are remembered even fifty-some years later, and friendships are often lifelong.  There are often strange twists in the road. But as a deputy sheriff offered in the novel  Eden Close, “ if you have your health and family, the rest is bull…”

Have you attended any reunions?  Why (or why not?)

24 Comments »

24 Responses to “Notes from the class of 1960, Dartmouth College”

  1. Dr. Crazy on 23 Jun 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    I think the whole “college reunion” thing is very much an Ivy/SLAC sort of thing and is way outside the experience of people who attended big publics.

    So, no, I’ve never gone to a college reunion. I went to my 10-yr high school reunion (but it’s worth noting that my graduating class from high school was around 700, so those reunions are probably about as big as many people’s college reunions).

  2. Susan on 23 Jun 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    I’m sure Dr. C is right about reunions. I went to my Ivy 10th, and plan on attending one next year (won’t say how many, as I can’t believe it’s been that long.

    Oddly, a few weeks ago one of my college classmates sent a bunch of us an email with some news, which prompted a round of updates. I found it nice to reconnect with people I haven’t seen for many years…

  3. GayProf on 23 Jun 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    I didn’t even attend my BA graduation, much less a reunion.

  4. Rad Readr on 23 Jun 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    I have a love-hate thing going with my SLAC, depending on the day and mood. On the one hand, I wanted to go there and feel like I got a good education that helped me become a professor. But it was also my first experience in a predominantly white educational institution, and it really freaked me out. Most of my friends wouldn’t attend a reunion, so I have a fear of seeing myself sitting alongside a bunch of people who freak me out. I already go through that at my department’s parties, which are kinda sorta part of the job.

  5. Divad on 23 Jun 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    I second Dr. C. It’s such an anonymous, dehumanizing experience to attend a big public that I can’t even remember the names of five people in my class in my major, and in any event it’s difficult to fit 7,500 into a reception area. I truly envy those people fortunate enough to have had a SLAC/Ivy undergrad experience, where it’s easier to develop interpersonal relationships (I studied abroad at a highly selective SLAC, and I’m still kicking myself for not attending one in the States).

    I would go to my HS reunion, but I just went to a funeral yesterday for a former classmate, which functioned both as a macabre reunion and a reminder of why actually going to one would likely be a terrible idea.

  6. quixote on 23 Jun 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    I’d like to go to a reunion or two, both high school and college, but I don’t dare. It took me about fifteen years and ten moves to shake off the barrage of junk mail from both institutions. If I emerged from exile, they’d know where I live and I don’t want to move dozens of times again to throw them off my trail.

  7. Bardiac on 24 Jun 2010 at 6:44 am #

    Like Dr. Crazy, I went to a mid-size public institution, and we just don’t do reunions in that way.

    It’s interesting, though, to see the nostalgia people have for their SLAC. I’ve been especially interested since grad school (when I actually met people who’d gone to such schools for the first time), where so many people were very enamored of their SLAC, but adamant against ever teaching at a school where they’d feel required to do the kind of hand-holding they’d benefitted from.

    I wonder how common that is? How many people who benefitted from going to an SLAC want to teach at one?

  8. Historiann on 24 Jun 2010 at 7:00 am #

    Bardiac: good question. I would happily have taught at a SLAC, but fate didn’t decree it so. I think most people would take a decent job over unemployment, even if their jobs weren’t at their preferred type of institution.

    And, there were only *some* students who demanded the hand-holding. I was a very low-maintenance student, as were (I’m betting) most students who were bound for graduate school anyway. From what I hear about people who teach at elite SLACs these days, the biggest difference in their workloads versus my workload is that their students still show up for office hours. (Whereas I rarely see a student during a scheduled office hour. Part of the reason for that is that I make myself available if at all possible to meet with a student, and I keep my door open a lot when I’m on campus. But the biggest reason for the absence of student contact outside of class at my uni is that our students just aren’t interested and/or aren’t as sophisticated as consumers of higher education.)

  9. Emily on 24 Jun 2010 at 8:27 am #

    I’ll admit, we attend my wife’s reunions diligently, even going with friends to their reunions…because she went to Smith, and reunion dorm housing is a very cheap hotel room for a weekend in Northampton. Well, also, Ivy Day is my favorite of all college traditions I’ve ever encountered. I think I like it better than the actual alumnae.

    My alma mater’s started doing “themed reunions” for particular groups of alums and/or people with similar interests–so I attended the LGBT reunion a year ago, and would have gone to the women’s studies/feminist/women’s (it was deliberately blurry, I think) one this year if it hadn’t been for my severe cash flow problem. If your school tries these, they might be worth going to; they had the advantage that people not from my class were there, so many of the people I organized with and took classes with who happened to graduate a year or two ahead or behind me were there to visit, plus there was programming related to issues I cared about. I had a better time than I did at my class reunion.

    The downside is you might have to listen to a speech by Larry Kramer. (I, happily, had used the universal excuse of the parent of a young child–”Oh, I need to take my son back to the hotel to go to sleep”–and cut out by that point.)

    I suspect I will feel very differently about these reunions when I’m thinking about my twenty-fifth, and not my fifth, though.

  10. squadratomagico on 24 Jun 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Bardiac, I would have loved to have been offered a position at a SLAC like the one I attended! I’d also second Historiann’s comment about being a “low-maintenance” student — I was that way at all levels of my higher education. And, though many students at a SLAC might need some hand-holding, I suspect the rewards of teaching small classes to engaged students might outweigh that burden.

    The question I am trying to figure out an answer to is, how come the freshman in my class this year are so much more dependent and unsure of themselves than in previous years? Are students getting more helpless? Is it helicopter parenting? There was a very notable change. I mean, when a student needs direct permission from me to use a blue pen on the exam….? That’s crazy.

  11. Susan on 24 Jun 2010 at 10:38 am #

    What’s funny is that having been educated at Ivy type places, I assume those rules at my public institution. And I am still adjusting to the different faculty culture…

  12. Western Dave on 24 Jun 2010 at 10:48 am #

    I loved me some SLAC as a student and desperately wanted a job at one. Alas, it was not to be although teaching at a private K-12 is pretty much the next best thing and in some ways better. I needed some hand-holding, no doubt about it. Particularly with my writing. And I religiously go to my college reunion (although it helps that I live close by). High school reunions have been a less positive experience. Lots of drinking, bad music.

  13. Historiann on 24 Jun 2010 at 11:19 am #

    Emily: too bad for you that you were subjected to Kramer! We posted here on that topic, too. What a tool.

    Sq.–I’ve noticed a similar dropoff in initiative and independence in our students. Lamentably! I think part of it is helicopter parenting, and the ability to be in touch daily with their parents. (Remember when “long distance” was really expensive, and you couldn’t talk to your family very often even if you would have wanted to? Not an issue any more.) Part of it, though, is that we’re now teaching No Child Left Behind students who have been subjected to a curriculum built around achievement tests and 3-paragraph essays. I find them much less creative and less adventurous than the students I worked with first at Baa Ram U. 9 years ago. I find that my paper assignments are much longer and more specific than they used to be. Is that what you see where you teach, too? (I’d be interested in Western Dave’s thoughts on this, since he teaches high schoolers, although at a private school.)

    Interestingly, our graduate students get better and better. That is, they come in with more skills I think, and they leave achieving at a higher level than earlier generations of grads. (This may have more to do with the fact that we have T.A.ships now, and we didn’t have so many in the past.)

  14. Indyanna on 24 Jun 2010 at 11:43 am #

    I was a pretty low-maintenance SLAC/er too, or maybe I should say deferred maintenance, because when it came time to apply for graduate school I had to play some serious catch-up with an advisor I hadn’t taken many courses with, and who had some very good and helpful connections to the program I ended up going to.

    Lots more one could say on that, but hey, we haven’t talked much yet about the initiating guest-post above. I just wanted to say I thought it was a very nice and reflective memoire, with interesting perspectives on change over time. 800 people who can generate $32M in discretionary benevolence funding between the out-years 44 and 50 is a pretty amazing testimony to something. (I wonder if anything similar will *ever* be said about any class that entered college after they began putting credit card applications in the bag with your textbooks?)
    And “twins at 56″ sounds like a pretty interesting continuing education project to aim at! Will he be ready to do half the household work at 70, though, when said twins are dismantling whole townships in their paths?

    From personal experience, I think sometimes some of your best “college friends” turn out to be people who went to your school, and at the same time you were there, but who you didn’t actually meet there and then. Rather, you met them early in your post-college days through introductions from people you did know, and ended up finding that you had more in common with them than possibly with some of the people you hung out with.

  15. cgeye on 24 Jun 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Adlai, not Adelaide….

  16. Comrade PhysioProf on 24 Jun 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    Alcohol abuse was a problem; weed and street drugs were non-existant.

    College without weed????? That’s fucking fucked up!

  17. Kathie on 24 Jun 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I’m heading back to my high school reunion this summer – and have gone to a couple of previous ones. Those have been fun because many of the people in my class were friends and classmates from kindergarten on, and we’ve had a high-functioning listserv for over a decade, so we share a lot of history.

    But college … for undergrad I went to a Big 10, where they didn’t even read our names individually at our graduation. “Class of 19xx, College of Arts and Sciences, please rise!” Boo. But a couple of years ago I did go back (halfway across the country) to the reunion of an interest group that I had been part of; the gathering was organized almost completely outside the realms of the U., and I see that the U. is now also fostering smaller interest-based reunions within the giant all-campus reunion events. Our particular group is planning another reunion as part of the larger university event next year. I think that is the way to go in the bigger schools, where I can also say I can’t recall 5 names – or even 3 – of those who shared my major.

  18. Emily on 24 Jun 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Indyanna: I don’t know how to interpret this, but, a year ago, my five year reunion class beat all previous five-year reunion class records for giving–something that worked out, I think, to a thousand dollars per student over five years. Much of that was during the pre-collapse period, though, when a ton of my classmates were employed in the financial sector, and making a pretty penny. (But a lot of us were in med school, or law school, and even a few in grad school, so IDK.)

  19. Z on 24 Jun 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Well … most of the people from college I want to see, I do see, and those I would hope to re-find, didn’t graduate in my same year, so a reunion would be futile. And grad school reunions, well, conferences do that (almost too much).

    I would go to a renunion of my college dorm, though, which was a hilarious place, and they do have reunions. It’s the timing and the expense that stops me.

  20. Historiann on 25 Jun 2010 at 7:42 am #

    No joke on the expense side, Z. I think I paid something like $500+ for myself and another family member to attend. Now, that included lodging and food (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktail parties) for two full days, so overall a pretty good deal for what we got but a lot of people don’t have that kind of coin, plus travel expenses.

  21. Matt L on 25 Jun 2010 at 8:20 am #

    No high school reunion. No college reunion. Ever. I won’t say never, because you never know (I would like to see how my high school classmates turned out there were a couple that are probably really interesting, if they reached adulthood).

    I am still in touch with my college classmates who are historians!

    I liked the reflections in the guest post. I kind of wish my college experience had been like that. I would like my students at Woebegone State to have a Great Issues class or lecture series.

  22. Western Dave on 25 Jun 2010 at 11:33 am #

    On independence and creativity in students -

    So my 9th graders and some of the 10th graders ask “does this need to be in blue pen” or “can I use pencil.” Seniors rarely ask after the first assignment. They ask because in middle school the teachers are very particular about that sort of thing. Even some Upper School teachers go ballistic if certain instructions are followed down to the smallest details (points off for improper line spacing on a title page for example). Stuff like that used to drive me batshit crazy as a student, so I don’t do it as a teacher, but I can understand why gets get bent about it. Who wants to have their assignment get a zero because they wrote in black ink instead of blue? (And yes, there are HS teachers like that). So in that sense, it’s not hand-holding, it’s self-protection.

    But, in my honors classes, I used to always have one or two kids out of 18 who wouldn’t risk being wrong in an essay. They would only write stuff that they knew was absolutely right. Sometimes, this kid was from a Catholic school, and they got over it pretty quick once they saw that as long as the facts checked out, plausible arguments were okay. But other kids, mo matter how many times I came at them with “all the great historians were wrong,” or “until you take some risks, you’re grade is going to be stuck in the B-range” or whatever other trick phrases I have, just couldn’t break through.

    So in the last year or two, that’s jumped to maybe 4 or 5 kids stuck in that spot. It’s weird, because there’s been a massive push towards more creative projects in the school as a whole (documentary making using laptops, blogging, podcasting, etc.) but it seems like unless a project is billed as a creative project, they don’t dare get creative. This year, my 9th graders did some of the best poetry in the style of Tang and Song dynasties ever and their Courtly Love stories/poems/sonnets etc. were outstanding. But the comparative essays on who was more influential, Byzantium or Sassanid Persia? blech. There’s a limited amount of evidence, so you might have to do a counter-example paragraph. The point of the essay is to decide on the criteria for what counts as influential. Instead, a lot of kids went nuts looking for evidence on line (and one of them even got caught up plagiarizing). They just weren’t comfortable deciding for themselves what the criteria should be. Given how strong the class was overall, it was disappointing. Although, some of it came because this was a very grade conscious (although not grade-grubbing) group.

  23. Comrade PhysioProf on 26 Jun 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Stuff like that used to drive me batshit crazy as a student, so I don’t do it as a teacher, but I can understand why gets get bent about it. Who wants to have their assignment get a zero because they wrote in black ink instead of blue? (And yes, there are HS teachers like that). So in that sense, it’s not hand-holding, it’s self-protection.

    You know what? These little pissants may as well start growing the fuck up. Because in the real world, no one gives a flying fuck about whatever excuse you throw out there for your failure to follow instructions, meet deadlines, follow through with duties, etc. There are plenty of people who do those things, and thus there is absofuckinglutely no reason to waste even a nanosecond attending to bullshit excuse-making by those who don’t.

  24. Western Dave on 26 Jun 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Geez, Comrade, upset? Pre-judge students much? The question on the floor was “why do students seem to need more handholding like asking for very specific directions about what color inks they can or can’t use.” Nobody said a word about them complaining. But hey if having and enforcing arbitrary rules is your thing, go for it. If giving zeros because somebody used the wrong font size, but don’t dare complain about the student’s work being boring and all the same because you are the one setting up the expectations that form is more important than content.

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