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1970 Revisited

Class walks the walk, 40 years later

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Watch this video on YouTube

In the video above, Clif Garboden (CAS’70) and Esther Wineburgh Rothkopf (SED’70) discuss the political turmoil at BU in the spring of 1970, the Kent State shootings, and what it means to finally graduate. Read more about the weekend’s coverage here. Video clips of alumni interviews and the Class of 1970 convocation are at facebook.com/bostonia.

They’re back. And they’re still marching. But this time, the Boston University Class of 1970 is walking in a Commencement ceremony that will replicate the one that was canceled 40 years ago, when political turmoil rocked the campus.

In photos from that May, students mob the streets not in caps and bright red gowns, but in antiwar T-shirts, protest signs in their hands, to march up Commonwealth Avenue.

One day shy of four decades later, roughly 225 alumni, along with 400 of their friends and family members, will return to campus this weekend to walk with the Class of 2010.

“We’re hoping they take away a feeling that the University has welcomed them back with open arms,” says Meg Umlas, executive director of alumni relations.

Umlas says BU invited members of the class to return to participate in the University-wide Commencement in 1980, but few showed up. She says this year’s events, inspired by a survey sent to Class of 1970 alumni in February, will be a “complete and comprehensive weekend for them to reconnect with the institution and each other.”

“We decided it would be meaningful for us to coordinate a convocation,” she says, “for these alumni to be able to walk across a stage, hear their name called, and receive a commemorative certificate.”

In addition to attending Sunday’s Commencement on Nickerson Field, the Class of 1970 will have its own ceremony, along with a reception and a celebration dinner, a memorial service at Marsh Chapel, and a presentation by photojournalist Peter Simon (COM’70), former photo editor of the student newspaper the BU News.

The returning alums are invited to stay in Warren Towers, known in their time as 700 Comm Ave — and in May 1970 as the emergency hub of student and faculty strikers.

“I’m beside myself,” says Esther Wineburgh Rothkopf (SED’70). “I’m so happy to think that the University remembered us after all these years.”

Rothkopf’s appreciation is a far cry from what she remembers of her first, abortive graduation, the only Commencement in the University’s history to have been canceled.

Clif Garboden (CAS’70) (left), Esther Wineburgh Rothkopf (SED’70), and Ed Boesel (ENG’70). Photos by Kalman Zabarsky.

On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Students at BU and around the country mobilized quickly to protest the escalation of the Vietnam War — and were met by unexpected force. On May 4, at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen shot and killed four protesting students and wounded nine others.

“The protest was clearly of a different character than others which have disrupted campuses in recent years,” Bostonia magazine editorialized at the time. “Its central purpose, as student after student stressed, was not disruption of the campus — though that happened — so much as registering the strongest possible expression of shock and outrage.”

The students made their point. Amidst bomb threats and a national student and faculty strike, more than 400 BU classes were suspended. On May 5, the University Council agreed to cancel the remaining final exams for undergraduates, as well as the University’s Commencement, set for May 17. (Graduate student Commencement exercises went off as planned.) Many universities around the country did the same.

Students from Boston-area schools swarmed the streets, leading a protest to City Hall on May 5 and another, silent protest to Harvard Stadium on May 8.

“Things came to a peak around graduation,” says Carolyn Evans (CFA’70). The “Kent State massacre” and its aftershocks, she says, “weren’t Tiananmen, but it was scary enough that the powers-that-be in universities had to disband us.”

Clif Garboden (CAS’70), a former BU News photographer and then the photo editor of the BU yearbook, The Hub, had planned to cover Commencement. At the time, he says, the cancellation seemed like a victory, a sign of respect for the seriousness of students’ protests.

“I was not disappointed,” Garboden says. “Ted Kennedy, or whoever the speaker was, was going to go out and tell us to change the world. And in effect, that message got through loud and clear.”

But many alums have since found themselves feeling that they had missed something important in the midst of the political upheaval.

“It felt incomplete when they sent me my leather-bound, tiny diploma in the mail,” Evans says. “I watched both my kids graduate from college, and even graduate school, with caps and gowns. I thought, I want to walk, too.”

Where some will gain closure, others find symmetry. One of Ed Boesel’s last memories as a BU student is of rowing in the Eastern Sprints, an annual rowing competition for East Coast colleges, in the days following the Kent State shootings. In protest, oarsmen from each school had stenciled red fists on the back of their shirts. Boesel (ENG’70) was struck by the solidarity.

“It was a war that nobody believed in,” he says.

This year, as usual, Boesel will return to Worcester to watch the regatta. But this time, “I’m going there straight from Nickerson Field,” he says. “I’ll probably have to hop on my motorcycle with my cap and gown still on.”

A full schedule of events for the Class of 1970 on Commencement weekend can be found here.

Katie Koch can be reached at katieleekoch@gmail.com; follow her on Twitter at @katieleekoch. Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu.

12 Comments

12 Comments on 1970 Revisited

  • Brent Sugay on 05.13.2010 at 7:15 am

    Nice article Katie! I especially liked the images of BU back in 1970. The student body now is so much more subdued compared to the BU kids of yesteryears.

  • Anonymous on 05.13.2010 at 8:50 am

    I am proud to walk with the class of 1970 this year!

  • Anonymous on 05.13.2010 at 10:12 am

    1970

    Great article and video. The Class of 1970 should be very proud.

  • Abhishek Seth on 05.13.2010 at 11:41 am

    Intriguing

    It was interesting to watch BU as a
    school—rather than a university with thousands of subgroups.

    The footage shown was even more intriguing. I found the changes on campus, from the 70s to today, to be quite drastic, and, therefore, more entertaining to watch.

    BUToday, great work. The videos you come up with are refreshing.

  • Anonymous on 05.16.2010 at 6:55 pm

    graduation

    I felt very proud to walk across the stage to receive my diploma, The saddest part was my parents never got to see me. They sacrificed so much so I could attend the University. BU was an exciting challenge. thank you for this day.

  • John Nelson on 05.17.2010 at 12:43 am

    NOW THAT'S A WOW!

    CONGRATULATIONS TO THE BOSTON UNIVERSITY
    CLASS OF 1970
    I am very very proud of all of you for finally
    receiving your earned diplomas in May of 2010.
    Freedom has won again!
    May PEACE LOVE AND HARMONY
    visit with you today!

    John Nelson, Peace Activist

  • Anonymous on 05.17.2010 at 2:16 am

    After 40 years....

    All of the hurt and loss of the past washed away now replaced with a cherished memory. And a feeling of exhilaration!! Thank You Boston University; truly well done. It may have been “ours” to have been denied, but now it has been “ours” to celebrate!

  • Carolyn evans on 05.17.2010 at 3:48 pm

    1970 Graduates

    This past weekend’s events were profoundly important. When I signed up to participate, I had no idea that it would mean so much to me.
    Thank you for all the careful planning and lovely tributes to remember us and the times that were changing the world.
    Sincerely,
    Carolyn Evans

  • Anonymous on 05.17.2010 at 3:54 pm

    Peace

    This past weekend’s events were profoundly important. When I signed up to participate, I had no idea that it would mean so much to me to be there. Thank you for all the careful planning and lovely tributes to remember us and the times and events that were changing the world.
    -Carolyn Evans

  • Anonymous on 05.18.2010 at 6:26 am

    Class of 1970--Thanks BU

    I want to thank the staff and planners of this incredible weekend. From the Peter Simon slide show, to the Remembrance Ceremony, to the reception at the Archives, to the Class of 1970 Convocation, to the Commencement Ceremony (where we were seated right up front)…the range of emotions I had were all over the place. It actually stunned me how emotional I was and still am. And the instant connection with fellow classmates was pretty amazing.

    What was such an empty feeling has been filled up with warm memories and smiles. I believe my Mom was looking down on me. She may not have seen me graduate in 1970 but she surely saw me this weekend. Having my children there made it extra special.

    Thank you again…this will be a treasured memory with many feelings to be delved into over the coming weeks. Thank you to the many reporters and photographers who captured the thoughts and sights. And a special thank you to the Class of 2010 for sharing their graduation with us.

    Leslie C-SON 1970

    ….Now if you could just open up a School of Nursing again :)

  • Penny Locke on 05.18.2010 at 1:12 pm

    Wow! What a Weekend!!

    Thank you BU for giving the class of 1970 this wonderful opportunity. I originally planned to attend to honor my parents who worked so hard to see me through my 4 years at BU and were so disappointed not to see me graduate, but the experience became so much more for me. It was more emotional than I could have ever imagined. The energy on that stage was electric. We were like one, enjoying the moment of our life. I was amazed at how wonderful it felt to walk across that stage and receive my diploma. It made me realize how important my education and all my experiences at BU had been in my life, so much more meaningful 40 years later. The memories, the renewed friendships, the singing, the speeches – it was all phenomenal. This is a feeling I will carry with me for many years to come. Thanks for remembering us! PL/SON

  • Linda Jackson on 05.18.2010 at 11:54 pm

    wonderful celebration!

    thanks to the administration of BU for doing this!! This weekend was truly a “class act” and I will never forget how we were made to feel so very special.
    I didn’t know what was going to happen but enjoyed every minute..seating us right down front at Sunday’s commencement was truly icing on the cake!! I felt really special…and, as a Washington, DC government employee, having Eric Holder give us a shout out was the best…
    Thanks also to my fellow 1970 alums who all came together from near and far to remember what 1970 was like for all of us….it was so good to connect with so many of you (some I didn’t even know in 1970)…..I will remember this weekend for a long time to come…Linda Jackson (CLA)

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