I am fortunate.
I am blessed.
These phrases are repeated over and again in the narratives prepared by members of the Class of 1968 for their 50th reunion book. Encapsulating 50 years in 500 words is no small task. Yet the returning alumni shared their stories with grace, charm, and authenticity. I read each one, and while there is much to learn about Colby in these stories, there is even more to learn about lives well lived.
The Class of ’68 entered Colby at a time when the “girls” and “boys” were physically separated on campus and lived by different rules. Female students were to be chaperoned for any overnight travel that included college work. Any other overnight absence required parental approval. The dean wrote to the women in the class that she was concerned about “unchaperoned coeducational overnight parties and camping trips.” She cautioned, “We sincerely doubt the wisdom of some of these activities.” Just a few years later, the Women’s Student League Board, which adjudicated the parietal rules for female students, was disbanded as dormitories became coeducational. The world was changing fast, and so was Colby.
By the time the class graduated, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, uprisings were occurring in major cities across the country, anti-war protests filled Miller Lawn, and recreational drugs were becoming popular among young people. Many members of the class left Colby to fight in Vietnam. David Thomas Barnes ’68 joined the army and was killed in battle just before his classmates graduated. Taking on an ambush, he fought valiantly, surviving multiple injuries before ultimately being stopped. He was awarded a Silver Star posthumously, one of several decorations he received for his brave, selfless service.
It was, as many members of the class observed, a tumultuous time.
And it turns out, looking back over 50 years, that life itself is tumultuous. As one alumna wrote, life’s path is meandering. It is marked by unexpected change. Life is filled with tragedies and challenges, but it is also replete with love and triumph, discoveries, passions, and fulfillment. Reading the stories of the Class of ’68 gave me inspiration and hope. It was as if they were sharing the recipe for a good life, even while the diversity of their experiences made clear that there is no simple formula for being able to look back on life with gratitude and a sense of good fortune.
Here are the lessons I took from our 50th reunion class.
Relationships are a sustaining, even replenishing element of life. Sharing life with a great partner and loyal friends makes everything better. Families are rejuvenating and often the very essence of a good life. The seemingly little things, like coaching your child’s soccer team, are often the memorable, gratifying moments.
Our vocations and avocations evolve over time. The best argument for a liberal arts education is in the paths of people who have lived through decades of radical change. Seeing how many times our alumni changed jobs and fields of work, how they engaged with graduate study and lifelong learning, and how they pursued the things that mattered to them most reinforces in me that we are doing the right thing by educating our students to be inquisitive, discerning, and adaptable.
Travel and exploration, especially with the ones we love, enlighten and animate our lives. The reunion book is filled with stunning photos from faraway lands, but I was also taken by how many in the class just loved being in the outdoors, often coming back to Maine for that simple pleasure.
More than a half century ago, Colby brought this amazing group of people together and provided them with an education that has served them in ways they never could have imagined. As one alumnus wrote, “Colby [is] engraved on my soul.” Another remarked, “Colby prepared us well for a good life.”
I want our current students to read about the lives of our 1968 graduates and to know that they, too, will take unexpected diversions in a world that is always revolving. And I hope, 50 years from now, they can look back and say, “I am fortunate.” “I am blessed.”
David A. Greene