50 years ago, these Northeastern students graduated amid rising inflation, high gas prices and the Vietnam War

Northeastern Golden Grads return watch the undergraduate class of 2023 commencement ceremony at Fenway Park. Photo by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University

This is part of our coverage of Northeastern’s 2023 commencement exercises. For more information, visit our dedicated commencement page.

The spirit of revolution was everywhere—the anti-Vietnam War protests ravaged the city as students participated in riots, sit-ins and demonstrations. But the graduating students of 1973 at Northeastern persisted, graduating into successful careers. 

But, it didn’t come without hurdles. 

“We were young and stupid and naive,” says Don Stockwood, one of many members of the Class of 1973 who attended Northeastern’s commencement exercises this year as Golden Grads.

During unrest and unemployment, the co-ops allowed these engineering students to succeed. In addition, the education allowed them to make a higher salary out of school than their counterparts in other regional colleges, he says.

“I’m very grateful because I had a good life because of my education here,” David Early says. 

There was a lot of sentiment against the Vietnam War while they went to school, Allan Deitch says. Many of the men joined the reserves and were sent to Vietnam as soon as they graduated. The fear of being drafted lingered in the minds of students as they tried to study and pass their classes. 

In December of 1969, students wore their numbers—a dreadful reminder of the toll of the war. 

It was finals week when the drafts were announced on TV, Deitch says. He remembers going to a calculus exam and students were congregating in the hallway beforehand trying to decide if they should join the army or wait to be drafted. 

Some students skipped the exam and went to sign up for the Navy or the Air Force, Deitch says. Others went into the exam and tried to take it. 

“Some were so upset, they got up and walked away,” Deitch says. “They couldn’t concentrate.” 

Early was No. 238, Stockwood No. 37 and Deitch No 5. 

The United States conducted two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War going into 1970, for men born from Jan. 1, 1944, to Dec. 31, 1950. No. 1 through 366, for days of the year, the lower number represented a more likely chance to be called to serve. 

All three were lucky because the draft ended before they graduated. 

John Madden was part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Due to the anti-Vietnam War sentiment, it was not an easy time to wear a uniform on campus, he says. 

“We were ridiculed. We were called baby killers and mocked,” Madden says. “It was uncomfortable from that point of view but made ROTC members work closely together.”

Veterans who returned from the war to attend school hung out with them because of the negative sentiment. 

Madden says he joined ROTC because he has deep family ties in the military going back centuries. 

“Military service is an obligation of citizenship,” Madden says. “It is something I think everyone should do. What you learn in the military stays with you forever.”

Madden, who received draft number 183, was instrumental in helping to create the Northeastern University Veterans Memorial outside the Egan Research Center. Instead of serving in the war, Madden continued his education and career in transportation engineering for more than two decades. 

“It was a pretty tumultuous time, but we managed to stay focused on our studies,” Vasken Bogosian says. “We were all driven to make it through the engineering program.”

The Vietnam War pushed the students to succeed, they say. If they failed, they went to war. 

During that first major draft In December of ’69, students held watch parties across campus. 

“We were all glued to the television,” says Bogosian, who received draft No. 350. “It was a very stressful time.”

Bogosian says this was on top of the academic rigor of the engineering school program. 

To this day, what his dean told him freshman year still sticks with him. He was told, “Look to your left and look to your right—only one of you is going to graduate.”

Bogosian says he looked around and saw the other students were “total nerds” and “I didn’t think I was going to make it.” 

Despite the shaky economy, Karen Anderson knew she had a job after graduation. She secured her first job with the Girl Scouts through her co-op connections. 

“I graduated in June, got married in September, and then went to the Girl Scouts after I came back from my honeymoon,” she says.

After a lifetime of jobs, including being a teacher, she now works with people with mental disabilities in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and she lives in Onset. 

 During her graduation in ‘73, Anderson proudly held the Bouvé College of Health Sciences flag. “It was huge!” she says. 

Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at b.treffeisen@northeastern.edu. Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.