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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

A Summer of Love

The 1967 "Be-In" marked the climax of an emerging counterculture.

By Maya E. Fischhoff

Allen Ginsberg. Timothy Leary. The Grateful Dead. These men were the links in the daisy chain of 1960s counterculture, the original hippies. Like Marx stewing away in the British Library, they were the vanguard of a movement of radical thought.

Not until later in the decade, however, when Ginsberg, Leary and the Dead gathered for a music festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, did suburban America realize the dimensions of the cultural rebellion.

In January of 1967, thousands of hippies heeded the blow of Beat poet Gary Snyder's conch and packed San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in the Be-In. Thus began the Summer of Love, in which young people from all over the country sought out the streets of San Francisco--the beating heart of the countercultural organism.

This summer was the culmination of years of countercultural experience. Still, the Summer of Love for much of the country--and for many members of the class of 1967--was the first moment of consciousness of the hippie movement.

Many class members say that Harvard was secluded from the radical flavor of the Bay Area. Going West to graduate school or to work, they stumbled on an unexpected whirlwind of cultural change.

"If you were playing in a rock-and-roll band and smoking marijuana and generally having a good time, you qualified," says Steven H. Atkinson '67, referring to the new hippie lifestyle.

To the silent majority that kept its grip on mainstream values, the kids in San Francisco were nihilists and dropouts, refusing to work a day job, pay taxes or serve in the military.

But hippies had developed an alternative set of values.

"In the working-class neighborhoods around Berkeley lived people who were doing everything people in Berkeley wanted to avoid," says Sandra C. Robertson '67, who studied Spanish at the University of California at Berkeley in the late years of the turbulent decade.

"They were working at miserable jobs," Robertson says, "paying taxes, strapped into these 50- week-a-year jobs, unhappy and drinking beer infront of their TV sets."

To the young people in Berkeley, adhering tothese cultural dictates was, if anything,irresponsible. Reared amidst the pain of the civilrights movement and the tragedy of the death ofJohn F. Kennedy '40, they felt the American systemhad failed.

"Don't vote," a bumper sticker of the era read."It only encourages them."

From the perspective of the young, world eventsover the next few years got progressively moreawful.

In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy '48 and MartinLuther King Jr. were assassinated. Troop levels inVietnam continued to rise.

Richard M. Nixon's ascendance to the presidencyseemed to symbolize a dramatic shift to the right.His call for law and order was a thinly veileddeclaration of war on war protesters and youngpeople experimenting with illicit drugs.

In retrospect, some recall the Summer of Loveas the last golden days of a decade of hope. Andin Berkeley, Calif., that hope took full flower.

"I think it was probably the most excitingplace in the universe," says Richard I. Loebl '67,who moved to the University of California atBerkeley after graduation to study math. Loebl iscurrently a tax attorney in Michigan.

"Virtually everything that happened in thecountry politically or socially started in theBerkeley-San Francisco area," he says. "Then itspread through the country for about the next 10years."

At Berkeley, students had fought for increasedcontrol and social change since the beginning ofthe Free Speech Movement in 1964. In 1967, therallies continued.

"Just about every day on Sproul Plaza therewould be someone sitting there with a bull horn atlunchtime trying to have a rally about this orthat or standing on the steps giving a speech,"says Loebl. "We would sit at lunch, toss a frisbeeand watch."

On the streets, social protest took a lessconfrontational form. Robertson remembers herfirst summer in Berkeley as "a time when peoplewere celebrating," she says. "There werespontaneous concerts. People would get together,play music, dance, hug each other and have awonderful time. There was a lot of sexualfreedom."

On the hazy city streets of the broad parklands, people tried to create a new vision ofsociety, says Robertson, who is currently aSpanish professor at the University of San Diego.

"People felt that there was a lot of love andit should just be handed around," Robertson says."It was the feeling that people were able to helpeach other, that there was enough for everyone andno one had to be grabby or insecure."

For Atkinson, the summer of 1967 was the peakof the '60s: a mix of pop music, political potencyand sheer happiness.

"Our generation was incredibly cohesive," heexplains. "There was this feeling we could doanything. We were flinging ourselves against thewalls, and it gave us this incredible sense ofunity."

Atkinson spent the year after graduationplaying the Boston club scene in his band, TheCredibility Gap. He says that pop music--and thelegends of pop, the Beatles--gave rise to theSummer of Love, which was shaped to form by theyoung people who ventured to California.

Beginning with British bands like the Beatlesand the Byrds, music spread a sense of community,synthesized political anger and caught thecultural currents of a generation.

"That summer was an international experience,"Atkinson says.

"I can still remember exactly who was in theroom the first time I heard Sergeant Pepper's,"says Atkinson, referring to the 1968 Beatles'album. "I thought: `This is amazing.'"

Atkinson remembers that "people reallyresonated" to the song "Day in the Life."

"I heard the news today oh boy'," Atkinson sayssoftly. "Every day you'd pick up the newspaper andyou'd be reading about the war or race riots. JohnLennon has kind of a haunting voice anyway--athin, reedy voice. When you heard that song, itwas like telepathy."

When the class of 1967 left Harvard, the campushad not caught on fully to the wave of drugexperimentation and countercultural statement.

Timothy Leary, the first prophet of LSD, servedon Harvard's faculty before spending full timetrying to convince young people to "turn on" tothe hallucinogen. And the campus had an activecontingent of young radicals.

Despite the slow reaction time of the East,several '67 alums say that the Ivy Leagues werenot far behind Berkeley in living out thecounterculture.

Robertson remembers encountering and oldboyfriend in Berkeley who was "turning on hissecret society at Yale" and distributing LSD onTelegraph Avenue.

"He would hand out LSD and say `Here, have youtried this? Take it, I'll stay with you and seeyou through the trip,'" she explains. "It was likea spiritual religious quest."Crimson File PhotoPoet ALLEN GINSBERG was a leadingspokesperson for the '60s counterculture.

To the young people in Berkeley, adhering tothese cultural dictates was, if anything,irresponsible. Reared amidst the pain of the civilrights movement and the tragedy of the death ofJohn F. Kennedy '40, they felt the American systemhad failed.

"Don't vote," a bumper sticker of the era read."It only encourages them."

From the perspective of the young, world eventsover the next few years got progressively moreawful.

In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy '48 and MartinLuther King Jr. were assassinated. Troop levels inVietnam continued to rise.

Richard M. Nixon's ascendance to the presidencyseemed to symbolize a dramatic shift to the right.His call for law and order was a thinly veileddeclaration of war on war protesters and youngpeople experimenting with illicit drugs.

In retrospect, some recall the Summer of Loveas the last golden days of a decade of hope. Andin Berkeley, Calif., that hope took full flower.

"I think it was probably the most excitingplace in the universe," says Richard I. Loebl '67,who moved to the University of California atBerkeley after graduation to study math. Loebl iscurrently a tax attorney in Michigan.

"Virtually everything that happened in thecountry politically or socially started in theBerkeley-San Francisco area," he says. "Then itspread through the country for about the next 10years."

At Berkeley, students had fought for increasedcontrol and social change since the beginning ofthe Free Speech Movement in 1964. In 1967, therallies continued.

"Just about every day on Sproul Plaza therewould be someone sitting there with a bull horn atlunchtime trying to have a rally about this orthat or standing on the steps giving a speech,"says Loebl. "We would sit at lunch, toss a frisbeeand watch."

On the streets, social protest took a lessconfrontational form. Robertson remembers herfirst summer in Berkeley as "a time when peoplewere celebrating," she says. "There werespontaneous concerts. People would get together,play music, dance, hug each other and have awonderful time. There was a lot of sexualfreedom."

On the hazy city streets of the broad parklands, people tried to create a new vision ofsociety, says Robertson, who is currently aSpanish professor at the University of San Diego.

"People felt that there was a lot of love andit should just be handed around," Robertson says."It was the feeling that people were able to helpeach other, that there was enough for everyone andno one had to be grabby or insecure."

For Atkinson, the summer of 1967 was the peakof the '60s: a mix of pop music, political potencyand sheer happiness.

"Our generation was incredibly cohesive," heexplains. "There was this feeling we could doanything. We were flinging ourselves against thewalls, and it gave us this incredible sense ofunity."

Atkinson spent the year after graduationplaying the Boston club scene in his band, TheCredibility Gap. He says that pop music--and thelegends of pop, the Beatles--gave rise to theSummer of Love, which was shaped to form by theyoung people who ventured to California.

Beginning with British bands like the Beatlesand the Byrds, music spread a sense of community,synthesized political anger and caught thecultural currents of a generation.

"That summer was an international experience,"Atkinson says.

"I can still remember exactly who was in theroom the first time I heard Sergeant Pepper's,"says Atkinson, referring to the 1968 Beatles'album. "I thought: `This is amazing.'"

Atkinson remembers that "people reallyresonated" to the song "Day in the Life."

"I heard the news today oh boy'," Atkinson sayssoftly. "Every day you'd pick up the newspaper andyou'd be reading about the war or race riots. JohnLennon has kind of a haunting voice anyway--athin, reedy voice. When you heard that song, itwas like telepathy."

When the class of 1967 left Harvard, the campushad not caught on fully to the wave of drugexperimentation and countercultural statement.

Timothy Leary, the first prophet of LSD, servedon Harvard's faculty before spending full timetrying to convince young people to "turn on" tothe hallucinogen. And the campus had an activecontingent of young radicals.

Despite the slow reaction time of the East,several '67 alums say that the Ivy Leagues werenot far behind Berkeley in living out thecounterculture.

Robertson remembers encountering and oldboyfriend in Berkeley who was "turning on hissecret society at Yale" and distributing LSD onTelegraph Avenue.

"He would hand out LSD and say `Here, have youtried this? Take it, I'll stay with you and seeyou through the trip,'" she explains. "It was likea spiritual religious quest."Crimson File PhotoPoet ALLEN GINSBERG was a leadingspokesperson for the '60s counterculture.

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