One of our most engaging traditions at CU is to welcome back the graduating class of 50 years prior to spring commencement. As I thought about the class of 1962 this spring, it struck me that the university and the class of ’62 came of age together.
When this group graduated 50 years ago, it was the dawn of the Space Age. CU’s Scott Carpenter (Aero’49, Hon DocSci’00) spoke at commencement three weeks after becoming the second American to orbit Earth.
Over the last half century, CU has been an integral part of the Space Age. Today we are a national leader in aerospace engineering and the space sciences.
Annually we lead all public universities in research funding from NASA. CU instruments have explored every planet in the solar system, and 18 astronauts have CU roots.
In 1962 Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper), which examined racial injustice and inequality of opportunity, was made into an Academy-Award-winning movie. Fifty years later we see how far we have come as a society and as a university. One in five freshmen on our campus this year was a first-generation student, and 20 percent were students of color from the United States, offering a diversity of backgrounds, cultures and perspectives in and out of class. But even as we embrace a diverse university community, we know our work is not done.
In 1962 Rachel Carson’s culminating book Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin Co.) was published, documenting the harmful effect of pesticides on the environment. Today, CU-Boulder is considered a national leader in sustainability and environmental conservation through action, education and research.
Only a year before the class of ’62 graduated, President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps to support the social and economic development of global communities. The corps was to be made up of volunteer college graduates. This year our alumni are No. 1 in Peace Corps participation for the second consecutive year! CU-Boulder alumni rank fifth in Peace Corps service since its inception.
The dawning of the Space Age, the infancy of the civil rights movement and the optimism of the Peace Corps encapsulated a bold era defined by a spirit of courage, persistence and vision.
Graduates of 1962 embraced the challenges, and today they have much to offer the graduates of 2012.
In 2012 our students are challenged once again on the heels of two wars and the most formidable economic recession of our generation. The times again call for courage, determination and innovation.
It’s our responsibility as a university community to summon in our students that same spirit of optimism and vision to keep the spirit of ’62 alive.
And in 50 years we’ll be talking about the legacy of the class of 2012.