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ALUMNI CORNER

Remembering Four Extraordinary Years

By Arthur B. Spector 68, P06, P08

There I stood, one April evening in 1987, on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, reading a congratulatory letter from President Reagan to the Columbia College congregation at the gala celebrating the College’s Bicentennial. That night was a long time from the day in 1964 when I had arrived from Arlington, Mass., to discover what a wondrous place Columbia College would be for me.

Yes, I am a member of the Class of 1968 — a historic year at Columbia — and I was part of four amazing years.

I was my high school’s class president and editor-in-chief of my school paper, like almost everyone else in the class. At Columbia, I was sophomore and senior class president and a philosophy major who went to Harvard Business School after graduation. I have been involved with the Alumni Association and the Board of Visitors for many years. It’s an honor and an opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the College, an important role for each alumnus and alumna. The College needs continued support and more.

In 1964, my class — 600 of us, wearing our freshman beanies — arrived on this great campus. My classmates were among the brightest and most talented, and hailed from more than 40 states, including Texas, Montana, California, Iowa, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Idaho, as well as places such as Puerto Rico, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Greece. There was the New England prep school group as well as those from Stuyvesant, Bronx H.S. of Science and the city’s Catholic schools. The freshmen were housed mostly on campus, but by the time senior year arrived we were on or right off campus. It was a rite of maturity to have your own “off-campus” apartment, even if you were only a block or less from the gates.

We graduated after four extraordinary years, and for most of us, they were grand years — great fun, great mystery and great tragedy.

Campus life was good. The dorms were packed and lively, and the Undergraduate Dormitory Council was constantly pursuing improvements with much success. Our class was the one that got the rule changed so that women could be in the dorms with room doors closed. [Editor’s note: Previously, doors had to be open at least the width of a book, which administrators interpreted as War and Peace while students opted for a matchbook.] We knew we were change agents. Much was happening in the outside world — the birth control pill and, in our senior year, the mini-skirt.

We had many good times on campus and off. Campus was teeming with student activities. WKCR surely was the best radio station on the planet. There were rock ’n’ roll bands and mixers and dances and parties and good movies. There was the opera and the ballet and the Apollo Theater with James Brown and the Village Vanguard for live jazz. The fraternities were in high gear. We had Barnard — good fortune for us, bright young women, and right across the street. No undergraduate, whether in the Ivies or anywhere else in the country, had a better four years inside or outside the classroom.

Early on, I was going to be a reporter for Spectator. My earliest piece was in 1964: “JV football romped over Pennsylvania 48–12.” But the real story of the paper that day was “Columbia, Led by Roberts, Beats Penn 33–12” by David Spiegel ’66. Sports at Columbia during that era had some high points, including the Ivy League champion, nationally-ranked 1968 basketball team led by 7-footer Dave Newmark ’68 and future NBAer Jim McMillian ’70, Heyward Dotson ’70, Billy Ames ’68, Larry Borger ’68 and Roger Walaszek ’69. The campus filled the gym, and we were all fans. Our national champion fencers, too, were extraordinary and had much depth on the team. During those years, Columbia had many of the finest fencers in the nation.

The classroom experience for the Class of ’68 was no different from earlier classes — a breathtaking faculty, with the Core an important part of that experience. I remember studying second semester on the roof of Carman Hall for a CC test along with 20 of my freshman friends and of course, getting a little sun. For me, Arthur Danto and John Herman Randall Jr. ’18 in philosophy, C. Lowell Harriss in economics and so many others were great influences.

Unforgettably, we had Vietnam, too. During our four years, there was an increased focus on foreign affairs and much debate. Columbia students, as they always had been, were concerned. As senior class president, I held a meeting in my apartment with some student leaders and we agreed to hold a Moratorium Day to talk about the war in early 1968. A couple of months later, Columbia students were climbing into buildings and hundreds of police were on campus arresting students. David Shapiro ’68, today a superb poet, was photographed smoking a cigar in the president’s chair in Low Library. He regrets that, but it is a great picture.

We graduated after four extraordinary years, and, for most of us, they were grand years — great fun, great mystery and great tragedy. I keep in touch with many of my classmates 42 years later and serve as our class correspondent; it is a pleasure to hear of their successes. Some are becoming grandparents now (hard to believe!). And today, I still enjoy sitting on the steps of Low Library and gazing over the campus, remembering the good times.

 

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