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At Long Last Commencement: Class of 1970

Feelings range from relief to grief to joy

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In the slide show above, four members of the Class of 1970, Arthur Chagaris (CGS’68, CAS’70), Rachelle Dinstein (CAS’70), Marsha Halperin Epstein (CAS’70), and Leslie Clarke (SON’70), reflect on a tumultuous time.

When BU canceled its Commencement in 1970 amid the nationwide turmoil of campus antiwar protests, Rachelle Dinstein felt robbed.

“We felt we deserved to graduate,” said Dinstein (née Gabel), an English literature major. “We put in four years of hard work.”

But when the University invited the Class of 1970 back 40 years later for the graduation they never had, Dinstein was ambivalent. “I was reluctant,” she said. “Why didn’t they do this after 10 years, after 20. Why now?” In the end, she said, “my husband convinced me this is an experience I should have had and I should go for it.”

So on Commencement weekend, wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt, a peace symbol hanging from a cord around her neck, and a halo of silk daisies in her hair, Dinstein (CAS’70) was back, along with approximately 225 alumni from the Class of 1970 and their families. The festivities included a slide presentation by photojournalist, author, and music historian Peter Simon (COM’70), a service at Marsh Chapel to honor deceased members of the class, and a reception at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. On Sunday morning, alums donned caps and gowns for their own convocation, at the College of Fine Arts Concert Hall. They then joined the Class of 2010 on Nickerson Field for the University’s 137th Commencement exercises.

Dinstein was happy she made the trip from her home in New York City. “I had the time of my life,” she said after the convocation (this time, the flowers were wrapped around her black cap). “It was a gas.”

Turmoil on campus
Members of the class recalled a highly polarized, volatile time. Dinstein remembered participating in all of the demonstrations, “anything that was going on”; she was among the students who helped an AWOL soldier who had sought sanctuary in Marsh Chapel. “We brought him food, visited him, took out letters for him, and supported his cause, which was, he didn’t want to go to Vietnam,” she said. “We didn’t want to see anybody go. There was always a little sense of terror, especially among the guys — all you had to do was flunk out one day and you would be crawling on your belly in the jungle the next.”

It was in this already charged climate that college campuses around the nation erupted in outrage after National Guardsmen opened fire at students demonstrating against the war at Kent State University on May 4, killing four unarmed students and wounding nine others.

At BU, fires were started at several locations, including the administration building on Bay State Road, at a CFA theater rehearsal room, and at Nickerson Field. Windows were broken; there were bomb threats. A student was hospitalized, apparently burned while handling a Molotov cocktail, according to Bostonia magazine. On May 5, the University canceled undergraduate final exams and Commencement, which had been scheduled for May 17.

The decision angered Charlotte Dinwiddie’s parents, who lived on Long Island. “They were somewhat removed from the potential for violence, so they were shocked that it would come to that,” said music major Dinwiddie (CFA’70). “They were really unprepared for the disappointment.”

Leslie Clarke believes that calling off the ceremony was the right thing to do. “There was violence all around,” said Clarke (SON’70). “Students had been killed. But it didn’t mean the decision didn’t hurt.”

Arthur Chagaris recalled that for many students, the ceremony wasn’t a priority. “A lot of people were being drafted,” said Chagaris (CGS’68, CAS’70). “It was very traumatic. People were leaving the country. People were dying.”

Still marching
In 1980, BU invited members of the class to participate in the University-wide Commencement, but few attended. The University organized this year’s events after conducting a survey of Class of 1970 alumni, in February.

The weekend’s speakers evoked the music of the ’70s and the drug scene, as well as some of the era’s prominent figures, including author and political activist Howard Zinn, a BU professor emeritus of political science and a mentor to many students. Zinn died in January.

Simon, whose sister is the singer Carly Simon and whose father founded the publishing company Simon and Schuster, said he became involved in the antiwar movement shortly after arriving on campus and joining the staff of the campus newspaper BU News. He photographed the protests and the “love-ins,” the distinguished guests who spoke at BU, including Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), and, he said, he “finally started smoking weed for the first time.”

He thinks it’s unlikely that he and his friends would have attended their graduation ceremony. “I was such a hippie,” Simon said. “And I didn’t believe in formality and pomp and circumstance and cap and gown and the whole attitude about being a BU student. We weren’t that favorably impressed with any administration, let alone BU, because of what was going on with our country.

“Forty years later how do I feel?” said Simon, who lives on Martha’s Vineyard. “Well, time has mellowed me, I have to admit. I still feel the same way about the issues we fought so strongly for: equal rights, female equality, a green Earth, pro-choice, opposition to Vietnam, breaking down the walls of oppression. I feel that our generation really got the ball rolling, and I’m proud of it.”

At Sunday’s convocation, the Class of 1970 marched onto the stage at CFA, waving at family and friends in the audience. Provost David Campbell delivered the convocation address. After collecting his certificate (graduates had received their diplomas in the mail after leaving campus in 1970), Simon picked up his camera and began photographing his classmates as they shook Campbell’s hand. And just as Arts & Sciences Dean Virginia Sapiro was to give closing remarks, Clarke started the group in a chant: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

“It just came,” Clarke said later. “That’s what we stood for. That’s what we were all about.”

Clarke, who lives in Beachwood, Ohio, said there was something “therapeutic” about the weekend’s events. “I’ll start talking about it, and I’ll well up,” she said. “There’s something going on; I think there’s a grieving and a letting go process that we’re going through. It’s a release, and it’s like, wow, this business is done.”

Watch 1970 Revisited. Video clips of alumni interviews and the Class of 1970 convocation are at facebook.com/bostonia.

Cynthia K. Buccini can be reached at cbuccini@bu.edu.

5 Comments

5 Comments on At Long Last Commencement: Class of 1970

  • Anonymous on 05.17.2010 at 7:45 am

    Thank you BU!!

    What an amazing experience….Thank you to all who made this possible! I wake up this morning still tearing up when I think of this entire weekend. It couldn’t have been more perfect!

    And thank you to the Class of 2010 for allowing us to share in your special day. I will never forget it!!

    A grateful member of
    SON 1970

  • Timothy Chaucer on 05.17.2010 at 6:28 pm

    Class of 1970

    Thank you Boston University for giving the class of 1970 an opportunity to gather together after all these years.

    Our class had a very strong moral compass; we knew the war was wrong-that we were wasting blood and treasure in a part of the world we knew very little about.

    I am proud to say that in Milford, Connecticut I led a demonstration of over 100 people on the Milford green BEFORE the War in Iraq began. This Iraq War is costing this nation in blood and treasure-almost 1 billion every day for almost 10 years. No wonder we are in debt to China, Japan.

    Howard Zinn, a bomber pilot like George McGovern in WW 11 is in the hearts of many of us. We miss him. The world needs him. These U.S. drones in Pakistan are causing more harm than good. They are great recruiting tools for Taliban. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Give peace a chance. Violence does beget violence.

  • Ruth A. M.Meyers,PhD, OT/L (Stewart) on 05.17.2010 at 6:55 pm

    40 yrs later

    Sadly- I didn’t know of the recent ‘graduation ‘ until after it occurred- that was my class, too! ( I went to Sargent- occupational therapy) – what a time it was ! And ,yes- we were really something, and still are!

  • Anonymous on 05.19.2010 at 9:21 am

    Thanks for the Olive Branch

    I join my sister from SON 70 and also extend my gratitude to the class of 2010 for sharing their special day with us. Believe me, it was our special day too. There was a point where the class of 1970 and the class of 2010 were standing side-by-side waiting to file onto Nickerson Field. We exchanged words of congratulations and other niceties. One of my classmates stated. “They should be handing us their resumes”. Wouldn’t that be great? The entire weekend was wonderful and one that I will never ever forget. It was a homecoming indeed. When I heard several staff members say “welcome home”, I felt “reclaimed”. We had been wandering for 40 years. There was a sense of unfinished business, and an incompleteness; but the wandering stopped this weekend. The true meaning and significance of this weekend has yet to be revealed; but tears come to my eyes everytime I think about it. Thank you Boston University for extending the Olive Branch. My hope is that other universities that also canceled the 1970 graduation will follow your marvelous example.
    A proud member of SON 1970

  • Arthur Chagaris, CGS '68, CAS '70 on 05.20.2010 at 6:15 pm

    Graduation of Class of 1970

    The graduation ceremony that we celebrated last week-end in Boston will probably be more memorable to us than had we actually experienced the one that was cancelled in 1970. In a sense, we are commencing a new stage in our lives. We are too old to be uncertain about our future but we too young not to aspire to make a difference in our communities, whatever size or shape that community may be. The University did a wonderful job to make us feel special. For our part, we should follow that lead and be special to those around us, be it family, friends or the community at large. I can say with full conviction that I received a fine education at BU, both at CGS and CAS. For that I am grateful. To paraphrase “Private Ryan”, I hope I don’t, and I hope I haven’t, wasted it. Don’t retire Class of 1970. Keep making a difference.

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