The Air We Breathed

My most vivid recollection of a afternoon, December 7, 1941. I was a freshman, studying in the second floor library of the Union, a hideaway I used to escape conversation and interruption.

Someone must have had a radio. I recall alarmed voices from Hawaii, and the realization that life would not follow the course I expected.

The rest of my undergraduate life, which ended for me in April 1943, seemed to be of extraordinary normalcy. True, my classmates and I no longer enjoyed a summer vacation or job, and attended classes year-round. The University was run by its provost instead of its president, who we later found out, was in Washington supervising the atomic bomb.

The officers of The Crimson turned over every few months instead of every year. Nearly every week we said good-bye and wished good luck to classmates who entered services before we did.

But despite all that, normalcy prevailed. Many of our classes consisted of both Radcliffe women and Harvard men, but it did not seem strange to us.

The Crimson ran its usual comps. After passing one of them, I lucked into a tutee relationship with then editorial chair (and now esteemed professor) Tom Kuhn. The joy of being night editor and turning out what I thought was a handsome and newsy issue induced me regularly at 2 p.m. to run at full gallop through the Yard to my room in Thyer.

The football team played. The band (with meplaying a baritone in the rear row) marched. TheSignet served its excellent conversationallaunches and provided opportunities for itsmembers to gracefully experiment with how muchthey could safely drink. My association with mythree roommates in Winthrop House was a continuingdelight.

Now, half a century later, the class of '45 cantook back and ask what we derived from Harvardthat was worth what our parents paid.

In my case, my wife comes first. Although I wastoo much of a drone to meet her when she was aRadcliffe and I was I at Harvard Law School, thatomission was repaired later when she visited myhometown to recruit Radcliffe students and weenjoyed a blind date.

A nifty bunch of friends was not as popular oras diverse in 1941 as it is today, but even thenit attracted remarkably congenial and talentedpeople, some of whom have remained friends for 50years.

My Crimson experience would be next. Thanks toTom Kuhn, I learned to write. Thanks to all theeditors, I had my first experience in managing anenterprise, formed great friendships and learnedskills valuable for a lifetime.

Partial knowledge in a variety of fields isnext in line. I have retained the sense of thesweep of European history I acquired in History I,a handshake acquiantance with the world's greatphilosophers I absorbed from Professor Demos.

I also have a hazy recollection of the laws ofthermodynamics, a sufficient comprehension ofphysics and chemistry to enjoy the ScientificAmerican and an undying administration for thegenius who showed me how to "simplify"differential equations by investing a complexexpression to substitution for "x".

More valuable than the partial knowledge Ireceived is the regret that my Harvard educationwas truncated. Especially after observing thevariety of experiences Harvard brought to my twochildren and watching the seat with the Presidentand Fellows, I have lamented what I missed.

Would it not have been fun to have spent asummer in Hawaii with my roommates? To havepersuaded Professor Riesman to supervise mythesis? To have enjoyed three years, not one anda fraction, of Crimson editing? To have had moretime for bull sessions?

Alas, I cannot take these regrets tooseriously, since I cannot identify the damageflowing from them. Harvard College, charitabletowards veterans, gave me so much credit formilitary service that two college courses while atHarvard Law School secured my A.B. degree. The LawSchool, equally charitable, did not make acollege degree a prerequisite for enrollment.

Two thoroughly learned and cultivated judgesrepaired some of the gaps in my liberal education.Other cracks were mended by leading discussiongroups, an activity which children, client andextra-curricular demands soon pushed off thescreen.

Now that I have retired from my legal career,there would be excellent opportunities to repairmy liberal education--were my second career in theeducation of 18 years-olds and younger lessdemanding.

Our 50th Anniversary Class report demonstratesthat most of my classmates are either stillproductively employed in a first or later career,or actively engaged in a myriad of activities ofintellectual, cultural or sporting interests.

Few of us can compressed months as Harvardundergraduates that pointed us toward a halfcentury of constructive or enriching activity.Perhaps I inhaled a double dose while running tomy Thayer room at 2 p.m. Perhaps the direction wassimply in the air we breathed in Cambridge.