Almost half a century ago, an apparent graduating senior at La Salle College in Philadelphia, who had been there for seven years, wrote an unsigned editorial for La Salle’s 1971 yearbook, the Explorer. The text is now in the public domain. I wish I could figure out who wrote it. (It’s not clear whether the photograph is his portrait.)
Here’s the whole thing:
Maybe the ivy has grown a bit more dense and the bricks slightly more weatherbeaten. There might be a little more grass in McCarthy Stadium, and there’s a lot less room to park in the morning. The hamburgers still taste raunchy, and the steaks are still more gristle than meat. But have the students changed from 1964 when I started here?
The graduates of the class of 1964 put on their Ivy suits, went for job interviews and were hired, and happily led meaningful existences ever after selling insurance, cars, and real estate. Some went to war and were killed; some went to graduate and professional schools. Most got married and had children. Some joined the alumni association, and some go to the meetings.
What will the graduates of the class of 1971 do? Many will shave their beards, cut their hair, put on brand new 1971 suits and be interviewed for 1971 jobs to put 1971 dollars into their 1971 pockets, and will happily lead 1971 existences ever after selling 1971 insurance, 1971 cars, or 1971 real estate. Some will go into the service to protect the 1971 country from the 1971 menace, and some will go to professional schools. Some will join the alumni association, and some will go to the meetings to spice them with 1971 things.
Where is the difference? People spoke against the president way back in 1964, but not as frequently (but then, Richard Nixon wasn’t president in 1964). There was organized protest in 1964, but organized protest wasn’t “in” back in ’64 as it is today. In 1964 drivers snarled at you when they cut you out on the road; today, they give you the Peace Sign while they still cut you out.
Which of the 1971 graduates will protest against sins against the ecology when these same people now work for the very companies polluting the air and streams, and dollars spent for ecology will mean less profit-sharing or perhaps the loss of a job?
Will the graduates of the class of 1971 grumble against intellectuals causing unrest when today’s graduates are running the country? Are the graduates of the class of 1971 a bunch of phonies who wear long hair and beards because this signifies a cause which they believe in, or because it’s “hip”? Will the graduates of the class of 1971 follow the example of their predecessors and lead meaningless existences in a dehumanizing society, or will they remember some of the causes they led protests for, remember that they are members of the Love Generation and the Woodstock Nation, and be genuine, feeling people, or will their humanity and sincerity sink into the corporate image?
Until now, no class graduating from La Salle has been different. The class of 1971 has yet been untested, but from all indication it will follow the way of the others, but damn, I hope not.
I almost don’t want to spoil that with my own commentary. But let me add some context.
It goes without saying that the students graduated by La Salle in 1971 had lived through tumultuous times. La Salle was one of many Philadelphia-area colleges affected by protests related to civil rights and the Vietnam War. But La Salle itself had been transformed—and divided—as a community during the years the Class of 1971 spent on campus.
Traditionally Catholic, white, working-class, and moderately Democratic, La Salle’s students were, in the early 1960s, less intensely affected by political conflict than undergraduates at the area’s Quaker-linked institutions, according to the historian Paul Lyons. But their isolation from America’s campus turmoil hadn’t lasted. In late 1967, a student returning from the March on the Pentagon had been assaulted in the cafeteria by a fraternity member, who declared a lack of remorse: “When I enrolled at LSC there was none of this element on campus.” In 1968, a Eugene McCarthy campaign event had drawn 125 students; conversely, in a campus mock election, more evening students had voted for George Wallace than for Hubert Humphrey. (Nixon had easily beaten both.) Finally, both conservative and liberal students had cooperated in 1969 protests, including a sit-in that lasted most of a week, to end compulsory ROTC service on campus.
In May 1970, a delegation of La Salle students fronted by David McKenzie had even appeared at a congressional hearing on college students’ views of the Vietnam War. McKenzie had addressed the members of congress with a prepared statement before responding to their questions, describing La Salle students’ sense that they were living at a moment that laid bare a deeper social corruption:
We ask you to question the cause rather than effect. Are these purveyors of violence the reason behind or the end result of a society that for all intensive purposes is malignantly misdirected, by an administration that in itself appears to exhibit the same illness. We wonder if the critics have considered the anger, frustration and desperation these people have been driven to by our unmoved and unsympathetic society. A society that you, the elected officials, are fostering. …
I find, myself, utter frustration among students with the Government that supposedly serves them, and that’s what the discussion was about at La Salle. This statement is very short. We had an eight-pager last night that we threw out and another group was working on a longer statement. We didn’t want to go into Vietnam and a long history of it because we figured other people would do it. We just wanted to explain the frustration that the students are feeling toward their Government. …
However, a lot of of the skepticism comes from the fact that until four nice middle-class kids were murdered at Kent State, no action was taken. And I think that if the students at Jackson State had been killed and not the students at Kent State, then we just would have taken it as another group of black people killed, and I don’t think there would have been hearings and I don’t think there would have been this upheaval over Cambodia.
Although they took more different political positions than either of these documents reveals, the class of 1971 were indeed wondering how their future selves would be changed by what they had lived through.
And now, from a different vantage point, I’m left pondering the subsequent lives of Americans born in about 1946-1949. And I’m thinking about my undergraduate students today.
La Salle College, Explorer 1971 (yearbook), La Salle University Digital Commons, 43.
Paul Lyons, The People of This Generation : The Rise and Fall of the New Left in Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 73-79 and 197-199. For the religious context of these events, see Lauren Michele De Angelis, “Catholic Activism: How Religious Identity Shaped College Peace and Anti-ROTC Movements in Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania History, 48, no. 1 (winter 2017): 1-29.
“Student Views Toward United States Policy in Southeast Asia: Hearings Before an Ad Hoc Committee of Members of the House of Representatives, Ninety-First Congress, Second Session, May 21 and 22, 1979” [PDF] (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970), 248-249.