Thursday, May 28, 2009

You can go home again (for just a day)

Quiznos Subs has replaced Barron’s Books on Hillel Place and a huge Target store now casts a shadow on the street which ends at Brooklyn College. Changes in the neighborhood and on the campus itself, however, were downplayed yesterday as the Class of 1959 recalled its four years there. The reunion brought graduates from as far away as Israel and some who still lived in Brooklyn.

Our group of five relived some of our experiences as if they happened yesterday. We all agreed that we received a wonderful liberal arts education from some great teachers. John Hope Franklin was chairman of the History Department. Burgoyne Diller was a member of the Art Department faculty. Most notably, however, was Bernard Grebanier, professor emeritus in the English Department and a highly respected Shakespearean scholar. One of his books, The Other Love, still sits on my bookshelf with his personal inscription. (Pulling it from the shelf just now, I see I also saved his obituary which appeared in the New York Times in May 1977.) He was just one of the many professors who had a profound impact on students. As we poured over the yearbook, we critiqued them all, remembering, too, the idiosyncrasies of some who left us cold.

Our courses included a year of science, history, a course in speech, a foreign language, classical civilization, art history, English, philosophy, economics, mathematics, political science, sociology-anthropology, psychology, education, health and physical education. The cost? $14 registration fee a semester plus books. A year later when the college wanted a 100% increase in the fee, student protests erupted throughout Boylan Hall!

Brooklyn College accepted its freshman class not by SAT scores but by the high school grades of applicants. And, since generally girls had higher grades than boys, girls made up the major share of the class. That is, until the administration decided they should balance the population and decreased the grade level needed by boys.

We reminisced yesterday and laughed about life outside the classroom, too - the sorority meetings, our brother fraternity and the beer rackets. Among the stirred-up memories was the cafeteria dress code for girls. Bare midriffs, navel piercings, and baggy pants are such common sights today that it’s strange to imagine that back in the 1950s, girls were not allowed in the cafeteria in pants. This presented a problem for many, especially in the winter, according to my friend Paula, who traveled by bus from Bensonhurst. She said she’d often sneak in past the guard, hide her legs under the table and ask someone to get her something to eat.

Life has changed us all, of course, but yesterday we were sorority sisters once again.