Journey is Just Underway
It’s hard for me to believe these youngsters I once knew — Victoria B., Kelsey P., Will M. and Amanda S. to name a few — have graduated from Laguna High School and are about to start their college careers. What’s equally hard for me to believe is I once was in their shoes half a century ago.
Was it really 50 years ago I moved into my freshman dorm? Growing up in Palo Alto, I always knew I wanted to attend college in Los Angeles. Little did I know that, in 1966, I’d begin my love affair with Southern California in general and USC in particular.
Many of my best friends were made my freshman year. In the dorm, there were about a dozen of us who hung out in each other’s rooms, made midnight burrito runs together and, yes, shared class notes. Seven of us pledged the same fraternity one night. Just last April, more than 70 of my Kappa Sigma brothers and I celebrated our 40th annual BS Open — a weekend of great story-telling and so-so golf.
Life back in ’66 was very different than it is today. The Beatles still were touring, Lyndon Johnson was president, and only a handful of my college classmates knew where Vietnam was. We lived in a bubble back then. Even though the Fighting Irish beat my Trojans 51-0 that fall, SC went on to appear in four straight Rose Bowls beginning in 1967.
(Speaking of football, two events from my undergraduate days are etched into my memory. The first was O.J. Simpson’s dramatic 64-yard run against UCLA to win the annual cross-town rivalry, and the second was the NFL launching what eventually would become known as the Super Bowl. Both took place across the street in the Coliseum.)
What also was taking place in those days was a steady escalation of the war in Vietnam. It was the first time Americans could see the effects of war on TV almost as they were happening. The end result was a nation torn apart for years.
Most of my fraternity brothers believed it was vital we fight communism in Southeast Asia. Only a handful disagreed. All that came to a head on Dec. 1, 1969, when the U.S. held its first Vietnam-era draft lottery for 800,000 young men over 18. I was a 21-year-old senior then, and “won” the lottery that night. Yes, my date of birth was the first picked.
The world my friends and I lived in half a century ago and the world you have inherited are similar, but very different. First, I don’t think SC ever will appear in four straight Rose Bowls again; second, there is a real possibility you can elect our first female president this November; and third, CNN has changed the way we view world events in real time. It’s both a troubling time but an exciting time to be a freshman on campus.
Last April, when my fraternity brothers and I met as a group, we talked a lot about our kids and grandchildren (some of whom may become your college classmates). We also talked about the “good old days.” Even though several of them are 70 now, I can tell you there still is a lot of vigor left in their old bones.
So, to you freshmen who are just beginning life’s journey, I wish you well. Take time to make friends and study hard. Both will serve you well in the years and decades ahead. I ought to know. The last 50 years have gone by in a flash. I’m so grateful my college friends from 1966 still are my friends today.
Good luck to each and every one of you.
Denny Freidenrich lives in Laguna Beach. He is a contributor to The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C.