THE troubled and troublesome college Class of 1968 tends to have a sober, even tragic view of life. They were high school seniors in the year that John Kennedy, a politician who gained their trust and inspired their ambitions, was shot to death in Dallas. They were college seniors in the year that Martin Luther King, the Negro leader who tapped their idealism and drew them into social protest, was murdered in Memphis. Throughout all of their college careers, the war in Viet Nam has tormented their conscience, forced them to come to personal decisions relating self and society, country and humanity, life and death. With the lifting of most of the graduate-school deferments, the men of '68 face the war and those existential issues as an immediate, wrenching reality.
Such pressures, direct and indirect, have had a profound impact on the 630,000 seniors who will pick up diplomas this spring. While many—perhaps a majority—are the familiar breed who spent their years at college in pursuit of an education or a profession without fretting too much over the meaning of either, even the quiet ones have been affected more than they show. Those who are in the really new mold sometimes show it by a defiance in dress: beards beneath the mortarboards, microskirts or faded Levis under the academic gowns. More often, and far more significantly, it emerges in a growing skepticism and concern about the accepted values and traditions of American society. Some of these graduates will become draft dodgers. Many smoke pot. Fewer than ever remain virginal. Yet it is also true that the cutting edge of this class includes the most conscience-stricken, moralistic and, perhaps, the most promising graduates in U.S. academic history.
Children's Crusade. Worldwide, this has been the year of student power. Taking to the streets to engage in bloody combat with police, students triggered a crisis for the Fifth Republic in France, contributed to the liberalization of Czechoslovakia, challenged the authoritarianism of Spain, and assailed the sluggish social institutions of West Germany. At home, the spontaneous "children's crusade" of college kids was largely responsible for making Senator Eugene McCarthy into a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Class of '68 has also harassed military recruiters and Dow Chemical interviewers, picketed induction centers, held massive—and sometimes unruly—rallies to protest the war. It has eyed its own campuses critically and loudly cried out for a more relevant education. It has demonstrated in support of fired professors and striking janitors, thrown itself in front of campus bulldozers, demanded everything from black-culture courses to total freedom from parietal rules.
These disruptive power tactics have been led by a relatively small group of radicals who hate all authority. Yet many campus-wide protests have involved moderate and even conservative students with little or no use for the doctrinaire polemics of Students for a Democratic Society. Many students reluctant to march or picket have nevertheless been stirred to face the issues raised. The jolting, dramatic atmosphere created by defiant demonstrators, television cameras and, frequently, charging police have left only the most aloof students untouched.