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Reflections on the 50th anniversary of our Class of 1968

I have been thinking all day about the year 1968 after spending the weekend reminiscing with Bellarmine’s Class of 1968. What an incredible year it must have been. The war in Vietnam and the war for justice in our own country. The tragic loss of Martin Luther King, Jr. and then the loss of Bobby Kennedy. It is overwhelming to think of the emotional impact on average citizens—especially college students—and how they handled the strife at home and the challenges abroad.

Our Bellarmine students and our Ursuline students of the classes of 1968 were observing the merging of two institutions which would change the course of their education, their institutions and the students themselves. Did they have any sense of the magnitude of the historical changes that were shaping their lives and the course of their country? Yes, I think in a sense they knew they were living in an unforgettable time.

Many went on to serve in the armed forces, others in the Peace Corps, some went on to medical school, engineering school or other graduate programs. They began their careers and would advance into leadership or change their professions. They would become involved in their churches and civic organizations throughout the country. Some of the racial and social class tensions that began so many years ago at home and abroad continue today. Our youth are not exempt from the strife of our day or the decisions of those before us.

We imagine that life was simpler then, that everyone shared the same values, that somehow life was easier. I do not think that is true, though. The struggles to unite around common ground are challenging now, but they were then as well. Yet, there is much to learn from the classes of 1968. Their greatest source of pride today is what they accomplished outside of their work. They spoke to me of their families, of their life partners, of their children and grandchildren. They remembered how impacted they were by the college experience, by the faculty who mentored them, by the staff who supported them, by the parents who sacrificed for them. They were so happy to spend time with one another 50 years later. They spoke about the good times in college and the experiences that impacted their lives. They knew that they were the lucky ones and they take pride in having paid it forward.

It is a glimpse of the past that gives us hope for the future. The issues of civil rights and civil discourse continue to challenge us today. Our college campuses are places where we need to come together to understand one another, to listen to the other, and to prepare for lives of service and leadership. What divides us today cannot be more challenging than it was for those who have gone before us and we honor their service by digging down deep to dialog across our divisions to bring a brighter tomorrow. It is a mission that is at the root of the Bellarmine experience and one that I cherish each and every day.