Graduation during Coronavirus and Kent State

Column by Mary Stobie
Posted 5/21/20

Graduates: If due to Coronavirus pandemic your school has shut down, I am sorry for your loss of a graduation ceremony.  You may feel anxious, confused, queasy, worried, with your future …

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Graduation during Coronavirus and Kent State

Posted

Graduates: If due to Coronavirus pandemic your school has shut down, I am sorry for your loss of a graduation ceremony.  You may feel anxious, confused, queasy, worried, with your future uncertain.

Fifty years ago in May, I was a senior completing my B.A. degree at Bard College in New York. The college built in l860 was originally called St. Stephen’s College for Episcopal priests (later named Bard College, became secular and opened the doors to women).

Bard is situated on the Hudson River with a sweeping view of the Catskill Mountains The beautiful campus has ivy covered stone buildings preserved as a Historic District.

May l970 found me with ll8 credits with 120 credits needed to graduate. I worked day and night on a series of paintings to complete my senior project to graduate in June.

For me, a Colorado artist, Bard became my center of culture.  My professors in the art department were working artists from Manhattan.

My first semester, the student employment office found me a position at Adolph’s as a barmaid.  Adolph’s was an off-campus nightspot where Bard professors and students happily mingled and shared pitchers of beer.

In their favorite booth, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who later became Steely Dan, were regular customers. If I put a quarter in the jukebox, James Brown would sing “I Feel good.” and everyone would get up and dance the night away.

Near graduation I was ready to move on with my life back in Colorado. Excitement filled me as I anticipated my parents traveling from Colorado to see me receive my diploma.  My dad, a graduate of Yale with a degree in economics, teased me constantly that Bard was a “college for rich hippies.”

I wanted him and to see the beautiful campus, meet my friends and be proud of me.

But in the spring of l970, the United States was still embroiled in the Vietnam war.  College students protested the war across the country. Many young men college age had been drafted to fight in the war. My friend Claudia from Wheat Ridge High School lost her fiancé Don Yarrington in Vietnam. I ached for her.

My only brother Bill McFerren, also a graduate of Wheat Ridge High School and the University of Colorado served as a Navy officer and flight commander of a P3 squadron in Vietnam.  Sad, I missed him and prayed for him every night.

As part of his presidential campaign in l968 Nixon promised to wind down the war in Vietnam. However, on April 30, 1970 having sidestepped Congress, Nixon announced he had expanded the Vietnam war into neutral Cambodia. I felt sick to my stomach.

Anti-war student groups at universities across the nation mobilized. Their fury at Nixon boiled over like a witch’s cauldron.

On May 4, 1970 at 1:09 p.m. I touched up a painting in my studio. My radio played the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Suddenly newscaster broke in “Breaking news: Four students have been shot and killed at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard.”

I gasped, lost my breath, and dropped my paint brush full of red acrylic on my alligator shoes.  As I bent down to wipe the paint off, my easel fell over.

Then I cried.

The Kent State shootings were followed a few days later  by a national student led strike.  Rioters burned down ROTC buildings on many campuses.

Then the news came that affected me directly.

An administrator notified all students, “We regret to inform you, we are closing Bard College for the rest of the year.”

Closing the college? What would I do? What about graduation, the ceremony? When would I receive my degree?

Stunned and crushed, I packed up my books, canvases, and clothes and drove my VW bug back from Bard College to Colorado. I burst into my parents’ house. “Hi Mom, hi Dad, I’m back!”

Two years later, I hadn’t forgotten Bard College. I had done so much work to earn my degree and I wanted to finish my last class. I quit my job at Barbre Productions, a film company in Denver, went back to Bard, and earned my degree.

Years later, finishing my degree proved to be a good choice. It was required to teach adult education ESL. Later I also needed the degree to become a hospital chaplain.

So in spite of my graduation delay, I finished what I started. I didn’t give up. 

My comment for graduates is: don’t be discouraged during the pandemic. Your degree may not help you now in these uncertain times, but it might later in your life.

You are at the “Coronavirus crossroads.”  You finished high school or college.  Congratulations for finishing what you started.  Your graduation the ceremony is postponed until later ,but that’s OK.

Class of 2020, you are the hope for Colorado, the United States, and the whole world. With the 2020 international Coronavirus pandemic we are one across the oceans as never before.

What choices and opportunities lie ahead of you.  May you and your future be blessed.

Mary Stobie is a syndicated columnist and author. She would love to get email from anyone who had their graduation postponed this year or in l970. Contact her at mry_jeanne@yahoo.com or www.marystobie.com.

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