The Yale Class of 1968 – Marked by Memories of Pain and Suffering


“The gilded future of the top 10 percent.”  Has this been our legacy?

 An ‘Open Letter’ to the Class of 1968 

“On our watch,” Yale ’68, the U.S. was hijacked.


(Original inspiration for signature song of the Yale Whiffenpoofs)

 “We’re poor little lambs who’ve lost our way,
Baa! Baa! Baa!” 

For Yale graduates of the Class of 1968, the year 2018 marks the celebrations of several memorable events. In addition to the 50th Reunion after their graduation, it is also the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre:

Yale ’68 was neither the only nor the first class at Yale to have been deeply affected by the Vietnam war.  The Yale Class of 1960 clearly felt that their class experienced a split down the middle toward a great many issues that became more prominent as the 1960s unfolded. ( On the Cusp: The Yale College Class of 1960 and a World on the Verge of Change: Daniel Horowitz )   By the Class of 1964 there was an explicit divide in the class over issues like the Vietnam war. (Class Divide: Yale ’64 and the Conflicted Legacy of the Sixties: Howard Gillette Jr.).

Nonetheless, it can be argued that the Yale Class of 1968 experienced a particularly dramatic convergence of crises.  The Spring semester of the graduating year of the Class of 1968 was marked as well by the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Senator Bobby Kennedy, echoing eerily the assassination of President John F. Kennedy which they had experienced when they were Seniors in High School, just four and a half years earlier.  In short, the Class of 1968 in some measure knew violence, death and sorrow, and it was acquainted with grief.

Few members of the Class of 1968 who heard the declaration at that time could ignore then or forget ever since the statement that The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in the Spring of their Junior Year on 4 April 1967 — exactly one year before he was assassinated on 4 April 1968.

It is perhaps for this reason that some the Class of 1968 are especially mindful that this year of 2018 also marks an important anniversary of another illegal and massively destructive war.  It is the 15th anniversary of President George W. Bush’s declaration of “victory” in Iraq.  On May 31 2003, members of Yale ’68 heard the speech by the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (see below) when they returned from Washington, D. C. where classmate, George W. Bush, had held a special reception at the White House to begin their Reunion festivities.

At the time President Bush had recently returned from the deck of the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, where on 1 May 2003 he had celebrated “mission accomplished” as he announced that “…In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” These memories are perhaps more vivid than even those of the Vietnam war,

Democracy Now – Headline – 20 March 2018 –
15th Anniversary of President Bush’s Invasion

As it happens, as well, the year 2018 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I, the war in which America began to intervene in the affairs of Europe and the crumbling vestiges of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The British writer and great bard of Empire, Rudyard Kipling, reflected on conflicts such as that one in a sad poem entitled: “Gentlemen-Rankers”

The poem stands as a haunting portrait of once prominent figures in a world that had been destroyed by the world’s first global conflict.

Several generations later Yale’s “Gentleman Songsters” out on a spree repeated nearly word-for-word the phrases of Kipling’s “Gentlemen Rankers” — probably not fully realizing their sad refrain took up  the rhymes and rhythms of a declining empire.

At the 35th Reunion of the Yale Class of 1968, shortly after the Whiffenpoofs once again sang the refrain from their signature song,  The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. delivered a public  address on the occasion of being honored as “The Permanent Chaplain” of the Class of 1968.  [Excerpt from “Splendor and Wisdom” – a film by Lloyd Kaufman & Michael Herz – a Trauma Team Release]

Given these tumultuous events and anniversaries, we might well ask, therefore, fifteen years after The Reverend Coffin’s address and fifty years after they graduated from Yale what ever happened to the “Class of 1968?” The answer is as varied and complex as the members of the class itself, glimpses of which will, no doubt, appear in the Class Book soon to be published as part of the 50th Reunion festivities.


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