Members of the Questrom Class of 1970 share reflections and advice with the Class of 2020

In 1970, Boston University cancelled its Commencement amid the nationwide turmoil of campus antiwar protests. It was a charged moment: college campuses around the nation had 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.

Today’s crisis is quite different: an invisible enemy, campus deserted, illness instead of violence. And Boston University looks forward to celebrating the Class of 2020 with the best commencement possible, when safety permits. But while the Class of 2020 waits, the Questrom School of Business sought advice and insights from the Class of 1970. Here is a collection of reflections and advice, with excerpts read on video by Rachel Reiser, Questrom Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Student Experience and Services, and others written below.


The cover of a record album produced in 1970 by friends of Howard Altarescu. “It documented the BU academic year of 1969/1970 and the collective action of the students with whom I am proud to have graduated,” he writes.

To the Graduating Class of 2020: Congratulations from a member of the Class of 1970 on your graduation from Boston University. I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy, safe and well stocked with provisions. This may well be a long haul.

From Howard Altarescu: “My girlfriend, Carol Bretzfield, and me, circa 1970 on Commonwealth Avenue. Carol and I met at BU and are looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of our marriage
this December.”

As you know, graduation ceremonies for my class were cancelled in 1970 as a result of the widespread nationwide unrest after the shooting of students at Kent State who were protesting the bombing of Cambodia by United States military forces. I actually do not recall disappointment at the time as there were so many other significant issues at hand. Cancelling our graduation ceremonies felt like the right thing to do. For context, in addition to the shootings at Kent State, which were traumatic to us all, there was the war in Vietnam and the draft, along with the ongoing civil rights movement.

These events unfolded on the heels of the 1968 assassinations of MLK, and the resulting riots, and of Robert Kennedy. Constant civil rights and anti-war protests defined the college campus experience for BU students and many others around the country in the years that followed.

Needless to say, it was a time of great turmoil for us all. A few dear friends of mine carefully documented this year of change with a record album (ed. note: see album cover image above).

And now, you find yourself in similar circumstances, confronting serious issues at the time of your graduation. We are in another time of great turmoil, this time caused by the global pandemic and resulting economic tsunami—and the impact has been nearly immediate as well as unsparing. The lack of leadership in Washington, D.C. aggravates an already difficult situation (as was the case as it happens 50 years ago as well).

When I reflect on this time in both my own and the nation’s history, I think fondly of my favorite Boston University professor, Professor Howard Zinn, the famed historian, political scientist, and author of A People’s History of the United States. I had the great opportunity to be Professor Zinn’s student for many years, spending time with him in both his classroom and on the streets of Boston, where he rallied students together to march for civil rights and against the war.

A piece of advice from Professor Zinn, offered in a class at the very end of our senior year, has stayed with me, and for those of you who are still reading this, I’d like to share it with you.

“Remember what we’ve done together over the last several years, but understand that no one of us can change the world. And so I encourage you all to carry on the fight by going home and carrying on our work by being good citizens in your own communities.”

My advice to you is inspired by this message. While taking care of yourselves and your loved ones, focus on what you can do to contribute to your hometowns and communities. Recognizing your responsibility as a good citizen in whichever community you call home, is the least—and sometimes the most—you can do.

A graduation ceremony is ordinarily the threshold between your college years and the beginning of your careers. Unfortunately, today it is the quarantine that represents that meaningful threshold. Despite the anxiety that you may feel, as so many of us do, I hope that you will embrace this opportunity to meditate on how you are going to contribute both to our society at large and to your own local communities.

My relationship with Boston University has continued to serve me over the years in ways I could never have anticipated in 1970. I hope you find similar rewards as you stay in touch with your colleagues and the university over the years ahead.

To the good citizens of The Class of 2020, congratulations and best wishes.

Howard Altarescu


To the Questrom Class of 2020,

My sincerest congratulations to the Questrom graduating senior class of 2020. Very best wishes for your good health, personal happiness and great professional success in your bright collective futures. While it must be so personally disappointing to have the last two months of your college careers taken from you involuntarily, you will survive… and thrive!

As a senior in the College of Business Administration/later the School of Management/now Questrom 50 years ago, in 1970, our class was similarly disappointed to have our graduation cancelled following the shooting of 4 students at Kent State University in Ohio. With the nation gripped by tensions, demonstrations and riots in protest of the Vietnam War, we were offered the option of waiving or taking final exams on a pass/fail basis and our class was sent home two weeks prior to our scheduled graduation with Edward (Ted) Kennedy as our Commencement speaker.

The great news is that through the generosity and organizational skills of Kenneth J. Feld, Boston University’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and our 1970 business school classmate, we were able to don graduation robes to “walk” as a class at BU’s graduation 45 years later with the Class of 2015 and receive “honorary diplomas.”

Similar good fortune awaits the Questrom class of 2020, I am certain. While you may have been denied the last few weeks of your college experience and the ceremony celebrating your achievement, you graduate to the next exciting phase of your lives with a business education which will position you for great success and fulfillment. Go forth proudly. Be the best you can be. And always remember your Boston University experience with pride.

Congratulations to each and every member of the Questrom Class of 2020.

Most sincerely,

William N. (Chip) Cinnamond

CBA (Questrom) Class of 1970


To:  The Class of 2020

From: Marcia Svetkey (CBA’70)

I want to take this opportunity first to congratulate all of you on making it, finally about to get your degrees. After all, this is what really truly counts, finishing your education and getting your degree.

The rest, the memories of how your school year has ended, how your graduation has been cancelled or postponed, while devastating, frustrating, and disappointing right now, will not go away, but will diminish as time passes.  I know firsthand because that’s what happened to me and the other members of the Class of 1970 whose graduation was cancelled 50 years ago.

It had been an extremely difficult time to be in college back then, too, with protests, building take overs, classes cancelled, lots of fear and angst. Just as the end was in sight, on May 4, four kids lost their lives in Ohio, during a protest at Kent State.  The University feared for the safety of the graduating class, guests and faculty because the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) threatened to take over the graduation ceremony with a huge protest, bigger than any they had held before. So exercising an abundance of caution, they shut down the campus almost immediately and cancelled the graduation scheduled to be held on May 17.  Yup, it was scheduled for the same day as yours, May 17—how ironic!!!

My world fell apart, or at least it felt that way back then.  I was looking forward to the smaller, more intimate, graduation ceremony the College of Business had planned to hold the morning of the full scale ceremony. I wanted to go to the big ceremony, too, to hear Ted Kennedy, the scheduled speaker, give the commencement address.

Later that year, after a long job search which included being told back then by the President of a large hotel company: “Sorry, we don’t hire women with degrees in business.” I ended up where I had not planned to be, in a job in the federal government where I would stay for 33 years as a human resources manager, in the Department of Health and Human Services, doing what I had been trained to do at BU.  Today, long since retired from HHS, I serve on the Board of Trustees at a timeshare resort/hotel on Cape Cod where I have been the Board’s Chair for 9 of the last 11 years.

Over all these 50 years since 1970, I have on numerous occasions told folks about my saga, my plight, how my graduation got cancelled, how devastating it was at the time, how it still hurts to have missed such a milestone that I had worked so very hard to achieve. But in the end, not having had a graduation didn’t ultimately matter.  It didn’t get in the way of my living a decent, comfortable, and fulfilling life. So when you, too, get by this moment in your life, know that this will just become a part of your life history, an experience to talk about, one you share with many others, but not one that will get in the way of all the good (and unfortunately some bad, too) things in the days of your life ahead and what they have to offer you.

I wish you all the best!!!  CONGRATULATIONS!!!


In short profile, after a CBA business degree I spent 10 years in Southeast Asia, initially as a Peace Corps Volunteer and then as a expat employee for several companies that led to a master degree in Southeast Asian economics.

Then after a 40-year international career in plastics I am now retired, a father of four children and a grandfather of seven, and with all this behind me I can absolutely reflect on this predicament for the 2020 graduating class at BU.

50 years ago my class did not graduate, nor do I recall having senior year final exams at BU; also, my diploma was mailed (all because of the Vietnam War protests and the goverment’s fear of it).

Your degree is priceless. Your work and accumulated effort and this remarkable and rewarding accomplishment will serve you for your full life.

The celebration is meaningless, it adds no value to the accomplishments you’ve already achieved with your degree.

Looking back over 50 years, I can honestly say, I lost nothing by not celebrating; I gained everything by having a BU diploma to focus and inform my further career.

All those seniors in 2020 missing your graduation ceremony are no less capable, no less accomplished and NO less a graduate. As young as you are, “See the forest instead of the trees.”

As a retiree living in Maine, I missed nothing for one day’s celebration, but gained a full life with my degree.

Clark Howland


Never vote for an attorney

Do not try to catch a falling knife

Take the high road

Always give your best effort

The grass is not necessarily greener on the …

Save as much as you can, then more

To succeed: be responsible, accountable, motivated,

Broaden and develop your experience and skills

A career path that you love will provide unforeseen rewards

Good luck, your family, business, community, country and world needs you.

With best regards, George Currie


To the Boston University graduating class of 2020

It wasn’t immediately apparent to me, but the ones who most missed not attending the 1970 Boston University commencement were my parents.  For most of us, then as now, it was our parents and other family members who were the behind the scenes cheerleaders, sending us care packages and encouragement as we strove to get our degree.

In 1970 the world was not at rest.  In the United States there was political turmoil, the war in Vietnam, and the testing of social limits that were turning our world upside-down.  I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t an age incredible anxiety, self-examination and opportunity.  When the Kent State University, anti-war incident brought things to a head, Boston became a hot bed of political/social activism and I still marvel that bloodshed did not occur between students, the National Guard, and factions from the Left and Right.  It was in the midst of this smoldering powder keg in the spring of 1970, that city and University leadership thought it best to cancel commencement, close the schools and dorms, and send all of the students packing.  I was later unceremoniously mailed my degree.

However, the unspoken hurt fell to our families.  My parents were so looking forward to venturing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Boston to attend their eldest son’s graduation from a distinguished University.  Cancelling commencement left them on the outside.  Nothing.  I believe they felt cheated and denied.

This year I was looking forward to what would have been my 50th year reunion, a milestone date to be certain.  But once again it was not to be; different circumstances, same outcome. C’est La Vie.

So to the graduating class of 2020 I ask that you not so much lament the current situation and your disappointment surrounding the cancellation of your commencement.  You have earned your degree and it will serve you well.  The friendships you garnered during your time at BU will be with you for a lifetime.  It is now time to think about those behind the scenes cheerleaders that have been left behind.  They too need to know that their efforts have not been in vain and your sensitive outreach to them now will be appreciated in more ways than you can imagine.  Let this act of compassion and understanding be a defining first step in what I trust will be a tremendously rewarding career where you will always remember those who make every step of your Life’s journey possible.

Bill McNally


It may be hard to understand now, but as time goes by not having a graduation ceremony will become less important. Eventually, it will become a conversation at parties and family gatherings – revisiting the historical events of the time.

I have found myself over the years saying, “I am from the class of 1970. We didn’t have a graduation.”

You are lucky that social media exists where it is easy to find classmates you were not able to see one last time. I lost touch with a few people I cared about. The only phone numbers I had for them were their dormitory land-line numbers and, since we all left campus abruptly, I had no way of contacting them.

I think to understand the feelings of 1970 graduates, it is important to understand that a graduation ceremony would not have been a happy time for many of us. With the Vietnam War raging, graduation meant that my male friends would no longer have student deferments and would be subject to being drafted. The draft lottery was held in December, 1969. The women in my small Bay State Road dormitory crowded around the one communal TV set, each of us clutching a list containing the birth dates of family members and friends who were of draft age, as the televised draft assigned a number to each date. That number would ultimately decide a person’s military fate, and most likely whether or not that person would be sent to Vietnam. My list of birth dates included several good friends from my CBA class, three of whom drew low numbers,  (one was ultimately given a medical deferment, two were sent to Vietnam but thankfully both returned). At around the same time, my brother was deciding to attend Northeastern University, not because it was his first choice, but because they offered a five-year undergraduate program, giving him an extra year of deferment. Imagine deciding what college to attend based on prospects of being drafted.

I know my parents were disappointed in not being able to attend a graduation ceremony. I didn’t understand it at the time. With everything that had gone on, I was not in a mood to celebrate. Now that I have a child, I realize that celebrating milestones is important to parents. So when you are able to give your parents or guardians a hug, please do so.

With sincere good wishes for success to the 2020 graduating class of Questrom.

Arleen Kline