The Class of ’68’s Senior Year

This is Part 4 of a four-part series of articles pertaining to the George Mason University Class of 1968. The text is borrowed from SCRC’s exhibition “First Class: Mason ’68 and Beyond” currently on display through August 2018 in the SCRC Gallery.

Procession, George Mason College First Commencement, June 9, 1968. George Mason University photograph collection, R0120, Box 1, Folder 25, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

What was the last year of college life at George Mason College like for the Class of 1968? There were no dorms – Mason would not have on-campus housing until 1977. George Mason’s three intercollegiate athletic teams (baseball, basketball, and rugby) were nicknamed the “Marauders” at the time.

The 1968 George Mason University Marauders Men’s Basketball team from Advocate, 1968. George Mason University Yearbook collection, R0132, Box 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

In 1968 there were three Greek organizations: fraternities Tau Kappa Epsilon and Delta Tau Sigma, and sorority Lambda Tau Omega. Mason Day 1968 boasted a dunk tank, the “Spring Car Bash,” a Miss GMC contest, and the infamous, and very muddy, tug of war. The Pep Club hosted a luau, which featured grass skirts and a barbecue. One of the graduating class’s very own was elected Student Government president. The spring dance was titled “The Ides of March gone Psychedelic.” The intense discussion over the Vietnam War and student/faculty protest dominated the pages of the school newspaper, The Gunston Ledger.

A regulation passed on to George Mason College from the University at Charlottesville in May 1968 governing campus protest generated quite a bit of controversy. It was designed to limit the size and scope of demonstrations on University grounds. Leaders of legitimate student groups were required to give ninety-six hours notice of planned protests. On May 7, Chancellor Thompson passed a typewritten document along to the Student Government and The Gunston Ledger to be distributed to the students. Dubbed the “Riot Kit” by the Ledger, it contained a form to be filled out by those planning on staging a protest.

Preparation for Commencement started in February of 1968. The Commencement Committee was comprised of students and faculty members. Dr. B. Prince Woodard, Chairman of the State Council for Higher Education, was asked to speak at the ceremony. The Ledger estimated that as many as eighty seniors would be part of the commencement in an article that month, and candidates were told that they were required to submit a five-dollar diploma fee to the Bursar’s Office in order to graduate.

The 1968 Commencement would also experience a small amount of protest. Two outspoken antiwar Mason faculty members, Dr. James M. Shea of Philosophy and Larry Leftoff of the Mathematics Department wished to make a statement by not wearing caps and robes during the ceremony. The Commencement Ceremony Marshal suggested that they not march in the procession, instead. Professors Shea and Leftoff later suggested in a September 20, 1968 letter to the editor of the Ledger, that George Mason College should abandon the tradition of wearing caps and gowns at graduation, starting its own new tradition. They proposed that instead of spending money collected from the students for caps and gowns, they use it for “more humanely productive projects” instead.

“Dr. James M. Shea, Jr.” from Advocate, 1967 and “Mr. Leftoff gives directions to “new math” party.” from Advocate, 1968. George Mason University Yearbook collection, R0132, Box 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Commencement took place on June 9, 1968 in the newly-constructed Lecture Hall, Auditorium I. It was held indoors because the weather forecast called for rain. Start time was 3:15. According to the account in an annotated program belonging to the Assistant Marshall, the proceedings went as follows: The first guests arrived and were seated at 2:25. The graduating class robed in the East Building before the ceremony and entered the auditorium to “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the Fairfax High School Band shortly before 3:30. A moment of silence was observed for Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated three days earlier. The Reverend Kenneth C. Holmstrup gave the Invocation. Chancellor Thompson introduced the Platform Party and Dean Krug made some brief remarks. Dr. Woodard gave a 22-minute address entitled “Expectations”, in which he told the graduates that Mason would grow so fast that they would “need a map just to get around campus” at their ten-year reunion. The address was followed by conferral. The conferring of degrees for the fifty-two graduates took about eight minutes, and the ceremony was over at 4:22. Five of the graduates were recognized for Distinction, while four others earned High Distinction honors. After the ceremony was finished the graduates stepped outside for a photograph. The entire graduating class was photographed against the west side of the Lecture Hall, just outside the doors. By 4:30 all guests had gone, and it had begun to rain.

Class of 1968 photographed in front of the Lecture Hall, June 9, 1968. George Mason University photograph collection, R0120. Box 1, Folder 25, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

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