Coming full circle

Members of the Class of 1967 returned to the university to celebrate their 50th Reunion. Much has changed since they were students, but their affinity for the place and people endure.

Members of the Class of 1967 celebrate their 50th Reunion, participating in the Commencement procession Friday, May 19, 2017. (Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL Photos)
Members of the Class of 1967 celebrate their 50th Reunion, participating in the Commencement procession Friday, May 19, 2017. (Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL Photos)

This past May, members of the Class of 1967 returned to campus to celebrate their 50th Reunion. With a Medallion Ceremony hosted by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, neighborhood tours as well as lectures and a Cardinals baseball game, alumni enjoyed themselves as they reconnected and bonded with their classmates. The Class of 1967 also led the procession at Commencement, entering the Brookings Quadrangle in cap and gown and marking the return to where they graduated 50 years earlier.

“Reunions provide alumni with the opportunity to reconnect with campus and with one another,” says Susan Cohen, assistant vice chancellor of alumni relations. “While alumni are on campus, they are able to see changes that have taken place, and many renew old friendships. The 50th Reunion is a wonderful milestone, and we are thrilled that so many classmates return to WashU to be part of a special weekend.”

By all accounts, the 50th Reunion is indeed a special celebration. Alumni Kent Hirschfelder, Jim Bierman, Dennis Uchimoto and Kathianne Crane share their thoughts on attending and reflect on their undergraduate experiences at WashU.

Reputation builds

In 1963, Time magazine listed Washington University as one of the country’s four “Take-Off Universities.” At this time, a significant shift was occurring on campus as the university began to welcome more out-of-state students. Entering as freshmen in the fall of 1963, the Class of 1967 was very much a part of this change.

“During the time I was here, Washington U. was transitioning from being a streetcar college in the late ’50s, early ’60s, to having a relatively large contingent of out-of-town undergrads,” Hirschfelder remembers. “This was becoming a really popular campus for a lot of kids.” The year before the Class of 1967 entered WashU, the school had built new dormitories to accommodate this influx of out-of-town students.

Students move in, 1965. Members of the Class of 1967 witnessed the university’s transition from a primarily local “streetcar” school to a university with students attending from around the nation. (Washington University Archives)
Students move in, 1965. Members of the Class of 1967 witnessed the university’s transition from a primarily local “streetcar” school to a university with students attending from around the nation. (Washington University Archives)

“It was a St. Louis streetcar school, mostly people from St Louis, but starting with Thomas Eliot, who was chancellor when we were students, the school really began to take on a national look,” Bierman says.

Over the 50 years since their graduation, the Class of 1967 has witnessed the university’s growth in national recognition. “The academic qualities are well-known, and you see Washington U. represented or faculty quoted frequently in the media,” Hirschfelder says.

A graduate leaps for joy after Commencement 1967. (Washington University Archives)
A graduate leaps for joy after Commencement 1967. (Washington University Archives)

“It’s been remarkable,” Uchimoto says. “The reputation has really come into prominence.”

Today, Washington University is ranked as one of the top 20 universities in the nation according to US News & World Report.

Although the university only began to receive major national attention during their undergraduate years, members of the Class of 1967 emphasize the high quality of education that they received.

“Maybe that major reputation wasn’t there yet, but certainly we were getting the same quality education,” Crane says with confidence.

Hirschfelder, who studied English, remembers fondly his professors. “We had some very, very good, well-known national faculty members,” he says. “WashU was just a wonderful place to get an undergraduate education. It was a very stimulating campus, and you had a lot of opportunity to interact with the faculty because it was small enough.”

All work and no play…

But outside of class, the school was also a great place for having fun. Students were heavily involved in extracurriculars and have fond memories of spending time with friends on campus.

Uchimoto lettered three times playing varsity football. “Playing a varsity sport really required you to learn how to budget your time and make the most of everything you do,” he says. “It was challenging, and it was gratifying.”

The “Battling Bears” during a football game, 1967. (Washington University Archives)
The “Battling Bears” during a football game, 1967. (Washington University Archives)

He also remembers making house decorations with his fraternity brothers for Homecoming.

“When I was a senior, we erected a football bear with my uniform number (No. 82)
next to the TKE fraternity house that had a moving arm and moving head, and it could growl. The bear’s height was 2.5 stories tall!” Uchimoto says.

Hirschfelder highlights his experiences with Bearskin Follies, a comedic theater production of student-written sketches. “It was held in what was then Keil Auditorium, what is now the Peabody Opera House, which held 3,000 or 4,000 people, and we filled it,” Hirschfelder says. “The level of talent and the quality of the productions were very, very high.”

Bierman recalls fun parties with friends and being involved in Greek life, but he also remembers the beginnings of unrest due to the Vietnam war.

“From a student’s perspective, I can’t emphasize enough how important the Vietnam War was for our class. We started in 1963, we ended in 1967, and that was a time of huge buildup in Vietnam, and so for males particularly it was always on people’s mind,” Bierman emphasizes. “What was going to happen when we graduated?”

Student protestor, 1960s. (Washington University Archives)
Student protestor, 1960s. (Washington University Archives)

Graduating male seniors had to take into serious consideration what they would do in order not to see combat. Bierman remembers that some of his peers moved to Canada. Others got teaching positions or joined the National Guard.

One of Bierman’s fraternity brothers graduated and went straight to the war. He was killed within the year.

For Uchimoto, the Vietnam War meant enlisting in the Missouri National Guard. “I was not able to attend Commencement for my MBA because I was in basic training,” he says with a chuckle. Uchimoto received his MBA from the Olin Business School in 1969.

Despite these larger issues, Commencement as undergrads was still a time of celebration.

Crane remembers a funny anecdote from graduation. “The first guys to grow their hair long were in the freshman class when we were seniors,” she says. “At our graduation, my brothers were taking pictures of these guys — the freshman boys and their long hair — instead of the graduates because it was so unique.”

Fun and festive return

Fifty years later, the Class of 1967 returned to campus.

“Reunion was terrific. It was extremely well done,” Bierman says. “Everything was done in a first-class way.”

Crane only knew a handful of people that were planning on attending, but she ended up really enjoying meeting others from her class.

“It was just fun to meet new people that you had a common experience with 50 years ago, to meet them in a new context and hear what they had done with their degrees,” she emphasizes. “Everybody was really interesting.”

Others reconnected with those that they hadn’t seen since graduation. “It was so fun seeing people. There were some that I had seen at other Reunions, but some of my fraternity brothers I hadn’t seen since 1967,” Hirschfelder says.

The 50th Reunion class attending the Commencement Ceremony. (Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL Photos)
The 50th Reunion class attending the Commencement Ceremony, Friday, May 19, 2017. (Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL Photos)

During the 2017 Commencement, the Class of 1967 returned to Brookings Quadrangle. Wearing their green cap and gowns, the alumni led the procession into the Quad. “You get a big kick out of seeing the present seniors applauding the old guys,” Bierman says with a smile. “Not all schools do that.”

“It really did feel as if we came full circle. It was something that happened 50 years ago and was being recognized,” Crane says. “It really was a wonderful experience to go back.”

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