University’s 50th reunion class sends message of support to class of 2020
Fifty years ago, Salve Regina – like many colleges and universities across the country – abruptly shut down operations, closing campus and sending students home before the end of the semester. The graduating Class of 1970 was allowed to remain in their dormitories for two weeks in order to participate in their May 25 commencement, which was headlined by speaker Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist.
It wasn’t a global pandemic that sparked the sudden closure, but domestic turmoil. The nation was in the throes of the Vietnam War and still struggling through the pain of the assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When the Kent State shooting happened on May 4, 1970, students across the country went on strike, triggering campus closures at hundreds of colleges and universities.
“Salve sent all of its students home,” recalled Jeanne Knox ’70, who now resides in Florida. “They suspended all action on campus, so we were alone as seniors with nothing to do after four years. We had each other and the sun, and we waited around for Commencement.”
Many students were staunchly against the war, while others in Newport’s Navy town were supportive. It was not unusual for students during that time to have parents, brothers and boyfriends serving in the military. While loved ones were unequivocally supported by all, the war itself was not.
“We were politically radicalized during our junior year; we were a divided class,” Knox said. “We were all living with these events, and when Nixon reinstated the draft, the moment became so real for everybody.” The Kent State shooting ultimately started the dominoes of closures tumbling on campuses around the country, including Salve Regina.
“So, we feel a kinship with the Class of 2020, as we look back on our Salve years and how significantly they contributed to the journeys of our lives,” wrote Pam Sweeney Foss ’70, a retired insurance executive from Orleans, Massachusetts.
To show their support for this year’s seniors who have lost so much of their final year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Foss and Knox joined with classmates Linda Zerilli Martella, co-owner of Veniero’s Pastry and Café in New York, Marifrances Kelly McGinn, retired vice president/general counsel at Providence College, and Joan Digney Schmid, a retired pediatric nurse from Bonita Springs, Florida, to share a message and a virtual toast via Zoom.
“Members of the Class of ’70 reaching out and sharing their experience with the class of 2020 exemplifies the strong connections that are formed here,” said Sister M. Therese Antone, chancellor. “Salve Regina endures and is constantly strengthened by the common bond among our graduates to seek truth, promote justice and respond in mercy to others.”
Sister Antone went on to communicate her confidence in a bright future ahead for Salve Regina, including the Class of 2020. “The courage and fortitude of the founding Sisters of Mercy that have sustained Salve Regina University through many times of difficulty, societal turmoil and natural disasters continues today, and I feel will be a sustaining power well into the future.”
A message from the Class of 1970
Video: The Class of 1970’s message to Class of 2020.
The following is a transcript of the message.
“Congratulations to the Class of 2020 on all your fine accomplishments as Salve Regina students; soon to be graduates. You have worked hard to get here and the Class of 1970 applauds you. We were saddened to hear that your senior year had been cut short. Something you had counted on and waited so long for has unfolded in a way you could have never imagined. It is a loss for each one of you.
“The Class of 1970 has spent the last year preparing for our 50th reunion, which is now, like your graduation, postponed. It’s a bit ironic as our own graduation almost didn’t happen because of turmoil over the Vietnam War that divided our nation. The sad events at Kent State’s campus in early May 1970, the loss of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the deployments of many friends and relatives to Southeast Asia marked us individually and as a class forever. So, we feel a kinship with the Class of 2020 as we look back on our Salve years and how significantly they contributed to the journeys of our lives.
“The Class of 2020 will always be defined by the leadership, perseverance and mercy you are demonstrating throughout your senior spring in the face of an unanticipated global pandemic. Like we did 50 years ago, you are learning flexibility, compassion and the joys of simple connections. Most of all you are learning about resiliency. Take this experience and use it wisely as you move forward in life.
“You are strong. You are accomplished. You are bonded with your friends, your classmates, your school, your faculty and your campus. Nothing can take that away! You are resilient. What you are experiencing now is preparing you for the hard decisions and inevitable disappointments that life will put before you. You will be ready to meet challenges and to greet the joys ahead with open arms!
“And so, to the Class of 2020, we lift a virtual toast! Your leave-taking may have been abrupt, but it cements your cohesion as a class and it launches you with renewed appreciation of life. May you celebrate your Commencement knowing that for your class, the trite saying that it is not an end but a beginning is completely true. We are reminded of the lyrics from Lee Ann Womack’s song, ‘I Hope.’ They are as follows:
‘I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
When one door closes I hope one door opens
Promise me you will give faith a fighting chance
And if you have the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance!’
Cherish each other and cherish Salve; and may all of life’s blessings be yours. Be proud of this experience, be merciful in who you are. Be resilient in all you do. Be Salve graduates. The best is yet to come.”