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1967: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of Graduating College

Published in ChicagoNow, June 7, 2017

1967. Quite a year to be launched from college into the world. The music was awesome but the politics were becoming frightening. Being quite immature and self-involved at that time, all I remember about graduation is that it rained in the University of Michigan stadium and my future husband and I laughed and talked through the entire ceremony.

Maybe we should have been more somber. Protests about the war in Vietnam were erupting all over the country, but we did not yet see how the draft would come to be a huge cloud hanging over our lives. Parts of Motown, my hometown of Detroit, would soon be destroyed in race riots, including the block that once housed my grandfather’s tailor shop. It would be one of the worst riots in United States history, 43 people were killed, 342 were injured and 1,400 buildings burned.

Other political blockbusters on the horizon included the Six Day War in which Egypt, Jordan, and Syria attacked Israel and were defeated; John McCain being shot down over North Vietnam and made a POW; Muhammad Ali refusing to go into the army; and U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy announcing his candidacy for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, challenging incumbent President Johnson over the Vietnam War.

1967 was a year of huge social change as well. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant. The first Super Bowl featured the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. O.J. Simpson was a running back for the University of Southern California. And the Summer of Love happened in San Francisco.

All of this upheaval and craziness was set to a soundtrack of amazing music. The Beatles broke the mold with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Aretha Franklin belted out Respect. Simon and Garfunkel created the movie soundtrack for The Graduate, a movie that is also amazingly 50 years old. We listened to Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, the Rolling Stones, The Who, the Mamas and Papas, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and countless other amazing musicians that emerged around that time.

Our favorite songs were Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl (that was me and millions of other girls who loved that song) and The Turtles Happy Together, which summed up how it felt to be young and in love in 1967. And we adored all 18 minutes of Arlo Guthrie’s classic Alice’s Restaurant.

I guess our cavalier attitude toward graduating college reflected the last carefree time of life when we were young and naïve enough to think things would work out. Somehow, I would find a teaching job while my soon-to-be-fiancé would be accepted to medical school. While both were true, our country was on the verge of major upheaval in the near future. The war in Vietnam and rapid social change would impact life as we knew it back in 1967.

Graduating college fifty years ago was a gift from a time when I could still feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. Cynicism and worry had not yet entered the picture. Sadly, I doubt today’s debt-ridden college graduates feel the same way about their futures.


by Laurie Levy
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