The UK classes of 1970 and 2020 will forever be connected, both denied a chance to walk across the stage and celebrate their accomplishments at their respective commencements.
While reasons for the two cancellations varied, it still resulted in the same feeling of sadness.
Political and social unrest raged across the United States in 1970, and it finally spilled over into Lexington when the AFROTC building on campus was set on fire. Shortly after, the university cancelled spring commencement exercises. The Class of 1970, which will celebrate its Golden Wildcat Reunion during Homecoming this fall, discussed those turbulent times.
“The political and social environment at UK in 1970 was anti-Vietnam War, and as a result, an overall attitude of distrust and turmoil was very prevalent,” says Bonnie Mays, a member of the Golden Wildcat Reunion Planning Committee.
“On campus was the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), which was disruptive for most of the ‘mainstream’ students, I believe,” says fellow committee member Mark Lane.
Jim Richardson, also on the committee, called the environment in 1970 a “paradox.”
“There were many students deeply concerned about the Vietnam War, but the impact on campus was minimal until the Kent State killings and the UK ROTC building was set on fire,” he says. “In addition, the first draft lottery was held on December 1, 1969. Following a basketball game at Memorial Coliseum, I returned to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity house to be notified that my draft number was 26. At that point, the political environment took on a heightened sense of post-graduation concern. We were kids and suddenly we were confronted with becoming soldiers in a war that didn’t make sense.”
The Class of 2020 was caught up in the global coronavirus pandemic, which caused classes to go online before spring break. Students never returned to class this semester and Spring Commencement had to be put on hold.
Mark Lane says his class was all set to hold graduation when it was cancelled at the last second.
“We were informed the week of graduation. We were disappointed, but one of my roommate’s parents were already on the way to Lexington from New York and were extremely disappointed and frustrated,” he says.
Richardson says the Class of 2020, while obviously disappointed at not being able to walk at Commencement, should not let that take away from four years of friendships and memories they have made.
“Don’t fret over the pomp and circumstance but focus on the relationships you have developed while at UK because that is what will actually stay with you,” he says. “Maintain those connections for they will be much more important over your lifetime than a ceremony. Take your UK experiences with you and make them relevant and intentional.”
Lane says he has many great memories of his time on campus. He still keeps in close contact with his UK friends, and met his wife on a “blind date.” They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year.
The Class of 1970 Golden Wildcat Reunion Committee wrote a letter to the Class of 2020, encouraging UK’s newest graduates and reminding them to think of all the good times they had in their years in Lexington. You can read the letter here.
They also reminded our newest alumni to hold UK near and dear to their heart, stay involved and return often.
“Life is about choices. You made a great choice coming to UK,” says Mays, who began teaching in Lexington after graduation and wound up walking during UK’s August 1970 services. “Stay positive and be kind and life will be kind to you.”
— Story by Hal Morris
Enjoy the following video of the Class of 1970 reading their letter.