50 Years ago last week I went off to college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It was definitely an exciting time but at the same time I was pretty nervous and apprehensive. And those were pretty turbulent times back then. It was only 10 months after JFK had been assassinated, the Cold War with Russia was raging, the Viet Nam war was starting to ramp up, especially after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution had just been passed, Civil Rights news dominated the airwaves-bombings, killings and marches in the South and President Johnson declared a War on Poverty. So that was the atmosphere I went off to college in!
The times were different back then. Hardly anyone spent weekends in the fall of their senior year in high school visiting college campuses. You basically went to the one you applied to and got accepted. I wanted to major in sports broadcasting and Boston University had a very good program as did UMass. I did visit B.U. for one day, taking the bus up from the Cape. But I couldn't afford to go there so it was mainly an exploratory visit. I did apply and got accepted. It cost $3400 a year back then!! I could go to UMass for less than a thousand dollars a year, and that's for room, board, and tuition. The works. But I also got into UMass and that is where I went.
The first time I saw the campus was in August. There was a 3 day orientation for the freshman. I took the bus up from Hyannis and switched buses for Amherst in Park Square in Boston. Most of that bus was full of freshman going to the orientation. We were given a tour of the campus and I remember asking the upper classman guide how much studying we had to do in college. And he said "Remember the busiest day you had in high school? Every day is like that here." I remember thinking what I did I get myself into to. We met the Dean of Men and he told us to look to our left, and then look to your right, one of you won't be here in 4 years! Yikes. And he was right! And he told us if we got caught drinking beer, don't tell him we found the beer by the tree down by the pond, because he had already checked that tree.
Right after Labor Day it was time to leave home! I said goodbye to my dog Horton, and gave him a big hug. I probably wouldn't see him until Thanksgiving. There was not a lot to pack in those days. I had a suitcase, a table lamp, a radio and a small hi fi set. That was it! Dad and Mom sat in the front seat and I sat in the back seat of the 1958 Chevy with my two sisters. It was about a 3.5 hour drive up Route 3 and out the Mass Pike.
We checked into Hills North and my room was 114. The rooms were pretty spartan back then. There was a bed, a desk, a wastebasket and a bureau for each of us. My roommate had not arrived yet. There were no TV's, phones, hot plates, or refrigerators allowed in the rooms. There was one tv in the community room for everyone to watch and the football players controlled most of the shows. And back then there were only 3 channels to watch. Years later when we brought one of our daughters to college, some of the rooms had more furniture and fixtures than our first apartment when we got married. There were no computers back then either. All of our term papers were done on a Royal typewriter.
And there was a curfew for the ladies. 11:30pm weekdays and 1:00am on weekends. My dorm was at the bottom of a hill and around 12:45am every weekend all the cars with their dates would go flying past, going up the hill to the female dorms. There were no co-ed dorms then and if a guy was caught in one, he would be in big trouble. And the class schedules were a lot different. I had a math class Mon, Wed, Fri at 4:40pm and I had Spanish Tues, Thurs and Sat a 8am and History at 10:10 those same 3 days. And my sophomore year I had a Zoology lab Sat 9-12! Yikes.
We walked around the campus for a while and then it was time for my family to leave. We stood out in the parking lot-hugged, kissed and shook hands. They wished me luck. I had a feeling I would need it! My father backed the 58 Chevy out and they drove down the road in the front of the dorm, waving out the window. They went past the Newman Center and around the corner, out of sight. I was on my own. And little Frannie Larkin was about to begin the next phase of his life.