Graphic collage depicting protest signs from 1970 and 2020

Last word


Tumultuous times for UC and the world, 50 years apart

BY BETSY EMISH STEVENS

 

When I read student body president Chandler Rankin’s reflection of how “a virus fundamentally changed our lives forever,” [UC Magazine, Spring 2020] I felt profound empathy for the class of 2020 graduates who could not have a Commencement ceremony or enjoy the final moments of their senior year. Four years of hard work, study and financial sacrifice deserve greater recognition and these graduating students were cheated by the pandemic. Rankin laments not being able to say goodbye to his friends or have the final celebratory meal.

I experienced a similar event 50 years ago as a member of the class of 1970. The years between 1966 and 1970 saw radical changes on the UC campus. I was living on campus in April 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots occurred in several cities, and Cincinnati mandated a 7 p.m. curfew. That evening I saw a police car drive slowly down Clifton Avenue with rifles hanging out the back windows. I felt terrified and the full impact of the assassination hit me hard. Something momentous had happened, and I knew our lives were going to be changed in ways I couldn’t imagine.

 

Betsy Emish Stevens, A&S ’70, M (A&S) ’71

UC alum Betsy Stevens. Photo/UC Alumni Association

 

On May 4, 1970, four Kent State University students were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard who were dispatched to that campus to quell demonstrations over the Vietnam War. Civil unrest followed on several Ohio campuses and others across the nation. Cities experienced protests and looting. Several days later UC suddenly closed its doors and sealed off the campus to avoid the destruction occurring on other campuses. Senior year was over.

I was stunned, upset, and I knew I would never again see some of my classmates. A month before the closure, a contest had been held for the senior commencement speaker, and I was selected. I was thrilled to be representing my senior class. Graduation for the class of 1970 was initially planned as an evening event, but was moved to midafternoon as the city and university administrators feared a large crowd gathering at night. I felt nervous speaking to thousands of people in Nippert Stadium that day, but I was grateful that, at least, our Commencement ceremony was held. (The 50th anniversary celebration for the class of 1970, scheduled for April, was cancelled due to the pandemic.)


“We have shown that when we need each other the most, we are willing to give our very best.”


The class of 2020 was not so lucky.

Graduates, you’ve experienced a bittersweet ending to your college careers. You all deserved a more rewarding finale, but the resilience that Chandler Rankin so articulately described will enable you to accomplish great things. Following the tragic death of George Floyd, we are all called to repair the social fabric that knits us together. You have the talent and ability to take up the challenge of leading us in a new direction toward mutual respect and understanding. On behalf of the class of 1970, you have our support and prayers. Congratulations and Godspeed.

We will be more grateful because of the amazing individuals on the front lines of this crisis, sacrificing their health every day to care for the most vulnerable. When I see UC medical and nursing students rising to the occasion responding to the needs of our public health system, this is clear to me.

And we will be more united because of our collective fight in getting through this time of pain. When a professor told my class that no student would be expected to attend every course session in the midst of a global pandemic, this was undoubtedly reassured to me.

We have shown that when we need each other the most, we are willing to give our very best. This is what has bent the outcome in our favor time and again. This feat is no different.

As we alter our lifestyles and shift our mindsets to cope with our new versions of reality, on the other side of this crisis is our victory — one that in my mind, we have already won.

 

Betsy Emish Stevens, A&S ’70, M (A&S) ’71, is a teacher and proud Bearcat.

FEATURE STORIES

Remotely possible

When did the COVID-19 pandemic first make an impact on your life? March 10? That was the day the University of Cincinnati decided to change something it has excelled at for 200 years. Teaching. Educating. That day UC announced that all lectures in classrooms, experiments in labs or designing in studios would be suspended. Students started what was expected to be just an extended spring break, but then 12 days later all courses had gone virtual to protect the university community and stop the virus’s spread.

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