Jubilarians Looking Back On Golden Half-Century Boston College Commencement [banner]

Jubilarians Looking Back On Golden Half-Century

Success of Class of 1950 members mirrored rise of Boston College

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

They are part of what journalist and author Tom Brokaw has labeled "The Greatest Generation," those triumphant heroes of World War II who built the foundation for America's economic and educational prosperity. For Boston College, they stand as outstanding "examples and role models," in the words of University President William P. Leahy, SJ.

They are the 1,324 members of the Class of 1950 - nearly 900 of them returning military veterans - who arrived in Chestnut Hill in September of 1946 to begin their college studies and launch the evolution of a small, serene commuter college into a major national university. Some 1,250 of the 1,324 would earn degrees, forming BC's largest graduating class to that point. Like so many in their generation, they would go on to enjoy unqualified success in virtually every professional field, and in the process help transform America into a modern superpower.

On May 19, Fr. Leahy welcomed nearly 250 members of BC's first post-war class back to campus for their 50th anniversary reunion. The event, held in the Carney Dining Hall of McElroy Commons, was an occasion for the alumni to reflect with wonder and pride on the alma mater whose rise has mirrored their own.

"I'm not a nostalgist," said Rattigan Professor of English John L. Mahoney, a member of the Golden Jubilee class. "I don't even like to listen to old Glenn Miller records. But I do have fond memories of those days at BC. It was a terrific place."

M. Brendan Fleming (right) and a fellow 1950 classmate examine a newspaper clipping during the Golden Eagle Investiture and Reception on May 19. Some 250 members of the class attended the event, held in the Carney Dining Hall of McElroy Commons. (Photo by Jet Photography)

Boston College was a "dramatically different school" in that post-war period, Mahoney said, with prayers before classes, mandatory annual retreats, daily Mass and a strict dress code. The returning veterans were a solid academic group, he said. "They were disciplined and delighted to be beginning their college educations. There were very few hi-jinks going on back then."

Mahoney, who served with the US Army Occupation Force in Japan before returning to BC, said that the post-war era also saw a transition within the Boston College faculty. Although Jesuits still constituted a major presence on campus, he said, "BC's suddenly expanded undergraduate population started a slow, but distinguished growth of lay faculty."

Because of the large numbers of students, Mahoney said, faculty members at that time were often asked to teach additional courses, even if the courses were outside of their specific areas of expertise.

"There was a much broader curriculum in philosophy and theology required in those days," Mahoney noted. "There were probably too many required courses, but if you met the right teachers - and I did - you could go a long, long way."

Those post-war undergraduate days "were a great, great time," recalled Class of '50 president Robert F. Harwood, now a semi-retired banker living in Walpole. "The ages of the students that enrolled in 1946 ranged from 18-year-olds right out of high school to 34-year-old World War II combat veterans with wives and children. But somehow, everyone got along."

Harwood, a former submarine sailor who served on three war patrols in the Pacific, said that the GI Bill was the significant factor in bringing so many veterans back to higher education. "We got $500 a year, which more than covered tuition and books," said Harwood. "Then we got another $75 a month - $90 by our junior year - for living expenses."

Class historian D. Leo Monahan, also a Navy veteran, credits the GI Bill with opening the doors of higher education to thousands of young men and women who otherwise could not have afforded college.

"The GI Bill was one of the greatest moves by the US government," said Monahan, who went on to become a lead sports columnist for the Boston Daily Record (later Boston Herald) for 36 years before retiring. "It gave us chances. We went on to get good jobs; we made more money; we paid more taxes."

The 1950 grads recall the academic requirements of the day as rigorous, but fair. "The toughest part was the required oral examinations," Monahan said. "You would go into a room with two Jesuits and they would usually let you talk yourself into a corner.

"I think a lot of guys would rather have been back facing the Japanese," he laughed.

"You know, Tom Brokaw was right," said jubilarian John P. Burke as he enjoyed the reunion festivities. "This was the 'Greatest Generation.' It was an era we won't see again."

 

Return to May 26 menu

Return to Chronicle home page