This is part of our coverage of Northeastern’s 2022 Commencement exercises. For more, visit our dedicated Commencement page.
More than 50 years have passed since their own graduation from Northeastern. But as they sat around a table at Fenway Park before the university’s 2022 Commencement ceremonies, Ken Vancisin, Dave Nettleton and Lynn Loudermilch Andersen still referred to each other as “The Roommates.”
Of course, Andersen wasn’t actually one of the roommates when they were students from 1966 to 1971. Women wouldn’t have shared an apartment or dorm room with their male counterparts at the time. But Andersen became an essential part of the friend group while dating her husband of 50 years, Richard Andersen.
He was not present on Friday, but is another member of “The Roommates” and is currently a part-time lecturer at Northeastern. The group has annual traditions that they have continued to share with their spouses and families over the decades.
“The Roommates” were back in Boston on Friday for this year’s Golden Graduates events, during which Northeastern alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago participated in the university’s annual Commencement ceremonies and reconnected with classmates through reunion festivities.
The Golden Grads reminisced about the challenges they faced both big and small as students in the 1960s and 1970s. With far fewer dormitories on campus at the time, many students lived off campus and commuted. Vancisin said that when “The Roommates” lived on Hemenway Street, they had an additional, uninvited housemate: A mouse they nicknamed Rasputin.
Northeastern’s Boston campus has changed tremendously in the last 50 years, said Vancisin, who graduated in 1971 but carried his student ID card in his wallet to the 2022 Commencement ceremonies. When he was a student, Dodge Hall was the library and there was a patch of dirt for the parking lot.
The Boston campus is “amazing” now, said Robert Maddock, a 1972 College of Engineering graduate who also joined the Golden Grad festivities. “When we were here there were like 12 buildings.”
“I love the campus. I love that it has trees and flowers and everything built in,” Maddock said. “The buildings are now where parking lots were before. We had nothing on the other side of the railroad tracks, and now you’ve got phenomenal buildings.” He was referring to the parts of the campus on the Roxbury side of the MBTA train tracks, which includes the Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex.
The campus isn’t the only thing that has changed over the last 50 years. The world has, particularly for women. When Andersen was a nursing student at Northeastern, she recalls her father having to cosign for her to purchase a $35 sewing machine. Women couldn’t get their own credit card without a man signing for it, she explained, calling it “the dark ages.”
Professional aspirations were limited for women at the time, too. Male/female roles were fairly standardized, Andersen said, and in high school in the 1960s, girls typically had the option of joining the future nurses, teachers or secretaries clubs. Andersen didn’t know any men in nursing at the time.
At Northeastern, there was more openness to women in other professions, she said. One woman who ran for Homecoming Court with Andersen was an engineering student, and Vancisin recalled that there were two female students in one of his accounting classes.
Things were changing. “It was like I started in my mother’s generation and ended in my sister’s generation,” Andersen said, describing the cultural shift as the 1960s shifted into the 1970s.
Cheryl (Grenier) Garside, who graduated in 1972 with a bachelor of science degree, described a notable shift in her experience: “Our year was the first year that women were allowed to leave the dorm with pants on,” she said. “We had to wear dresses.”
The years that these Golden Grads studied at Northeastern coincided with the Vietnam War. And in 1969, men just their age were up for the draft. The draft and other aspects of the war fomented intense protest—particularly by students.
“When we were in school, it was the height of protest,” recalled Jeff Garside, Cheryl’s husband, who also graduated in 1972. “Students were taking over buildings, peace marches, stuff like that.”
In response to the U.S. invading Cambodia as part of the Vietnam War, students on nearly 900 campuses across the nation walked out of classes and participated in protests in 1970.
A catalyst for the massive protests occurred when National Guardsmen opened fire into a large demonstration at Kent State University in early May and four students died. The Kent State shooting further fueled strikes that shut down hundreds of campuses across the country. Students also traveled by the busload to Washington.
Ken Block, another member of the class of 1972, remembers participating in the protests. There was a network of contacts across universities, he recalled, coordinating marches and other protests. Students would hand out fliers all over campus every day, and Block even traveled to D.C. with press credentials as a student journalist.
Without the internet, it was difficult to know if the protests were having an effect, he said, so he’d call home to his family in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to gauge the influence the striking students had beyond campus.
For students in the college military honor society Scabbard and Blade, which is for members of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), “it was a hard time to be in uniform,” said Vancisin. He recalls protestors disrupting morning exercises for the student trainees.
When asked how he felt about his Northeastern experience more than 50 years later, Vancisin said, “If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing. Maybe I’d study more.”
Jessica Taylor Price contributed reporting.