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1968 Descends Upon My Head

By Stephen D. Lerner

TALKING with my classmates on the eve of their graduation has no evoked a particularly festive response. Some are down at the mouth because of the draft; other are simply t a loss as to what to do with themselves. One would imagine that after fourarduous years of travaille the end of the academic moratorium would be greeted with a sense of rejoicing, relief, and eve liberation. Instead, I have become increasingly impressed with a muggy mood of despondence which hovers over this year's celebrations like a lazy mosquito: annoying, menacing, frustration, and depressing.

What will you remember about your senior year at Harvard? The gloom of December when the war got worse, when draft calls increased, when your thesis tumbled from your frostbitten fingers like a heavy stone and the future looked as dead as the icy eyes on a frozen pigeon which lay in the trash claws outstretched, stiff, scratching the clouds--too cold to even interest the maggots?

Or perhaps you were one of those who, bravely, went on with the work to be done, as usual, knowing full well the weighty perils you faced but taking them in your stride, like a man, with a stiff upper lip, as you munched buttered toast in the late morning, surrounded by friendly fellows in the warmth of the drawing room of your favorite club.

Is this you? Or perhaps you were the one we didn't see much of this year. The one who got up a little later everyday until one day you never got up at all. Were you the guy who spent most of his waking hours in the Coop Record Department, waiting for the new release? Or did you sweat all day over a hot mimeographing machine, the unsung hero of the student activists?

Do you remember what they used to say about us in National Press? We were their hope and their fear. First, the generation of activists: the one who had overcome the "apathy of the sleeping '50's." But then at the prep schools some clever Life magazine correspondent had dubbed us the "Negos," the super-sophisticate boys, the kids who were negative, sarcastic, caustic, alienated, and bitter about everything that touched them. We were the ones who thought it was uncool to show emotion, to become involved, to be love are engage.

And then we were the beats, and then the Love Generation, an then the Flower Power People. The hippy, mini, teenie-boppers who wouldn't cut their hair or take a bath. We were many things to many people. Black Power advocates, peace marchers, community organizers, desperate student power desperados, and members of many movements. We signed petitions to eradicate the II-S deferment an then petitions to reinstate it. We circulated "We Won't Go" statements and "We Might Not Go" advertisements, and "We'd Rather Not Go" petitions.

Yes, we were all of these things and some of these things and none of these things at all. The press played us for what we were worth and then dropped us like the younger sister of a two-bit whore. But there were parts of us they never touched. We had our honour and our price. There were levels of profundity and nuance they could never fathom. So be clam because I'm not about to unveil out mystique here. Probably I had you scared, worried at least that I would attempt to expose our secret. Fear not, I'm no stoolie. And besides the world isn't ready for the real news about us yet. They'll learn...when the time comes.

Until then let's make light of it. Have you been keeping up with the Times? It's a riot. A couple of weeks ago column eight told of Parisian students occupying the Latin Quarter; column one had the word on the insurrection at Columbia; at the bottom of the page, on the left, was a story about 500 students in Brussels taking over the university; deep inside the first section there was news of students rioting at the London School of Economics; section two told of the continuing "problem" with young radicals in Germany; the next day Brooklyn College was hit; and a week later 1000 students and faculty had taken over the main administration building at San Francisco State.

Is this simple youthful exuberance, an international conspiracy, or a chance convergence of mystical patterns in the stars? Perhaps. But the student demonstrations around the world are also symptoms of a now tangible malaise which has, during the course of the years we have been at Harvard, become part of the fabric of the college education. Whatever one wants to call this sense of anxiety and unease, it has become the focus of the college experience.

"Focus of the college experience," come now. Beginning to sound like another Dunlop Report. Big words are cheap this year. Where's the nittygritty beneath all the verbiage? Underneath the asparagus tree written in the tea leaves I see the words: JESUS SAVES. So, appropriately, I pray to be saved, to be delivered from the tedium of the lecture halls, to be thrown out into the real world where real things happens to fleshandblood people. But soft, a voice harkens unto me: SON, FORGET IT. "It ain't so great to be on the outside," the logic flows, "stay awhile and be protected by mother Harvard." And so I remain ambivalent, undecided, shuttling in that twilight betwixt the real and the unreal.

RECIPE: Take the above and shove it up your stove. Boil at 450 degrees farenheit until only sediment remains. Then smoke it and the resulting hallucination may approximate the state of mind of the seniors who have haunted these hallowed hall this year.

EXERCISE: Put your right hoof in your right cuff, bend your elbow behind your ear, takes a snort and sneeze. The consequent sensation will parallel the pretzel-like contortion which most of us have sustained all year.

RECREATION: Put into your Thirteenth Floor Elevator earphones, sit crosslegged on the floor, take a puff enjoy the stuff, write a rhyme to pass the time, make a movie or something groovie.

DIALOGUE:

STUDENT : "Teachers, why is this night unlike any other night?"

TEACHER: "It isn't."

STUDENT: "Teacher, why is this year unlike any other year?"

TEACHER: "It isn't."

STUDENT: "Teacher, why is this war unlike any other war?"

TEACHER: "All wars are hell."

But this is our war and our year and it's different. At least different than expected or advertised. There have been war years before, in fact the classes of 1918 and 1943 which share the festivities with us today saw their class day ceremonies filled with uniforms. But then, in those days, there was a certain pride attached to the wearing of a uniform.

How hard it is to say with packaged words what we felt this year and feel now. How difficult to articulate to those who are here for their twenty fifth and fiftieth reunions that we, in our own peculiar ways, are trying to remain faithful to our own ideals. But these, once again, are the big words of blasphemy which have become unpronouncable this year. "Ideals." Humph. The tooting of ideals comes to so little in the end.

WE HAVE learned about hypocrisy and perhaps think too much of ourselves for having unveiled the forked tongue of the Establishment. We have, like each new batch of rebels, tried to tickle the testicles of society in order to shake something loose, inject a little jism, a hopeful seed into the metallic womb of America.

There, now that's what I think it's all about. Some, in fact many, may differ. Even among my peers there are those who might have phrased it differently, who don't jive to this gibberish. But who are they to tell me what to say?

MOTHER: "Well Johnny, now that you've graduated what do you plan to do?

GRADUATE: "Well, I..."

FATHER: "Yes, son, your mother and I have been thinking and we feel that after your $16,000 education it's time that you made something of yourself."

GRADUATE: "Well, Dad, I..."

FATHER: "Now before you say a word I just want to remind you that there's still a good place waiting for you at the B&M family business. It's nothing fancy, but doughnuts perform a vital..."

MOTHER: "Now Daddy, you have to let Johnny decide. You haven't let him slip a word in edgewise and he's probably just bustin' his sides waiting to tell us that he wants to become a doctor or a lawyer or something which will make us proud. What is it son, dont be afraid, tell Mummy and Daddy what you want to be when you grow up."

GRADUATE: "I wanna hide."

FATHER: "What kind of money is there in it, son?"

MOTHER: "What kind of profession is that, Johnny?"

GRADUATE: "I wanna be a hermit."

WHAM. "Identity Diffusion" sets in. It's one of those modern diseases. But, like all modern maladjustments it has a solution. PRESTO: you don't know which of your multiple identities you will choose, which of your many fortuitous opportunities you will take advantage of? BINGO: we put you into one of our sanitized, civilized, compartimentalized Eriksonian boxes and christen you "Identity Diffusion." ZAP: you now have an identity which is the state of not knowing just what your identity is.

'Doc, I gotta dose of id diff, take a whiff, whacha gonna do, put me in the zoo?" Prescription: "Two years at the front will make a man of you, give you a sense of direction, purpose, and leadership skills." (The New York Times is helpful here and notes that an overwhelming majority of those who have been under fire say that they have benefitted from the experience and are more confident because of it. Note, that there is no mention that the poll was administered only to those who survived.)

Oh you old cynic you. You pulverized potato, you spineless spinach, you mustachioed pistachio, who do you think you are? What gives you the right, let me see your papers, who gave you permission, where is your petition, you have no commission, I bet I know your mission. It's an ill wind brings you into town, and now with your new gown I guess it's legal.

Oh you Red radically pink professor of promiscuity, delector of delights, collector of the sights, defector of delights, collector of the sights, defector of all rights, rejector of the fight, defecating deities galore. And what's more you know the score. You turkey.

And from whence this outrageous outburst of outgushings? The flushings of my toilet training stage that now descend upon my head, the leavings of an age.

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