Ten years ago the Class of 1965 stumbled out of college into the beginnings or the American involvement in the Viet Nam war. The previous autumn Mario Savio had helped start the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and students for the first time flexed the muscles of student power. Robert Kennedy was attorney general, Martin Luther King had just helped lead the march on Selma, and students were beginning to question the values and roles society customarily had ready and waiting for them when they graduated.
Today the Viet Nam war is over, the draft is gone, and both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are seven years in their graves. The issue for the graduate of 1975 seems to be not so much whether he will accept society’s values, but whether he will be able to get a job. Perhaps noble ideals were easier for students to embrace when they enjoyed the economic security provided by dear-old-bourgeois Dad and an open job market; now, the romanticism of the Sixties seems to have lost most of its charm, leaving in its place a rush to security. In the Sixties, Dylan sang, “Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift,” to which we might now add the Seventies refrain, “If you’re lucky.”
For many students, the most disillusioning fact about The Big World Out There is not that it is corrupt or hypocritical, but that it doesn’t have a job opening for everyone. And so good old-fashioned anxiety is back in style, right there amid the return to beer and fraternities and sororities. There does seem to remain some collective memory of that so recently departed previous generation of students, those Old Ones who marched, picketed, questioned. So today’s graduate is not, cannot, be like the Class of 1955 any more than he can be like the Class of 1965. There is also some recognition and perhaps even a dose of respect for, yes, Dad and Mom, who by and large managed to find and hold