Last weekend I succumbed to curiosity and attended my 40th college reunion at Stanford University. I could joke that I didn’t know who all those elderly folks were, but the fact is most of my old friends looked great. We talked about our children and grandchildren and our work and our vacations and our dreams to make the world a better place and our recollections of the college years.
You math geniuses will figure that we graduated in 1972. It was the year that President Richard Nixon announced he would draw down the troops in Viet Nam. In the fall he was re-elected to a second term. During our time on campus anti-war demonstrations were commonplace, but we also had friends who were fighting in the Vietnam War.
Following graduation some of my friends signed on for a two-year program called Volunteers In Asia. They went to places like Indonesia, Burma, Thailand and Taiwan for their tours of duty. In reunion groups they spoke of the value the program had provided them. Some were preparing to return to Asia in the coming summer to visit Viet Nam.
Travel was big part of our education. As a student I went to the university’s campus in Tours, France, to study and travel. Even there the war was inescapable. On a visit to Paris I went to see the building where the “Paris Peace Talks” were taking place. Along the way I witnessed a student demonstration that was controlled by police with tear gas and clear plastic shields. The chaos I saw was as frightening as war to me.
One reunion luncheon was spent with a couple of former service veterans, one from the Navy and the other from the Army. Both had used the Reserve Officer Training Program to help then get through college. They spoke fondly of their years in the service and didn’t remember much of the student protesting. Neither had served in Viet Nam and both had learned much from the military experience drawing on it for future careers.
As we went around the table there were also two doctors and a teacher and several lawyers (way too many lawyers). There was only one voice from agriculture. They were curious about my background. I had graduated two quarters early and come home to Mentor where there were not many jobs to be found. To make ends meet I took work mucking stalls for one Howard Shultz on SOM Rd. in Mayfield. Howard paid me $5 a day and fed me breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food was good. The hours were long. And Howard was an education in himself. It was at his table that I saw my first copy of “Ohio Farmer.” He had lots of ideas about farming and lots of wind to explain them. I listened and learned for a month and then went to find a job at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
At the reunion table there were bushels of notions about farming too. Mostly misinformation about farm subsidies, nutrient pollution, the family farm, organic production, pesticides, confinement livestock… You name it. we spent much of luncheon debunking it. And they were good listeners, who were genuinely happy to hear that farms are still owned and operated by families; that most years farmers don’t even use the premiums they pay on crop insurance; that farmers were composting and using expensive inputs carefully; that pesticides were applied in parts per million; and that livestock operations had confinement regulations.
While back in Columbus Ohio State fans were warming up to play Nebraska, we went to watch the Stanford Cardinal (who we had known as the Indians) play the Arizona Wildcats. The highs coring game went to overtime with the Cardinal pulling it out for the win. Yes there was mention of the Rose Bowl where Woody’s Buckeyes led by Rex Kern had fallen to the mighty Indians led by Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett.
Although the memories came from long ago, the faces and voices had not changed that much. It was good to share new experiences with old friends at the alma mater.