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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Opinion: Four unforgettable years at AU

For graduating seniors, what shaped college years also shaped the course of history

In four years like no other, we, the seniors of AU, were there.

Imagine yourself a member of the class of 1967, just as many of our parents were: a college class that defined a generation. Upon arrival in 1963, the Kennedy administration was the grand summation for what lay ahead than what might have been. America was the unquestioned king among nations. Poverty would be eliminated. Man would walk on the moon. Communism would be defeated. All these goals would be accomplished, and with a bare minimum of cost.

What a difference four years make. Within those four years, Kennedy was killed, civil rights legislation led to civil unrest, the outbreak of large-scale combat in Vietnam began, riots led to over-policing, and people began to question America's place as the beacon of hope for the world. All those events led to the worldwide protests of 1968, which signaled a new generation's coming of age.

America was changed forever, and nowhere more so than at American University. In four years, AU witnessed President Kennedy delivering his "Pax Americana" speech, which was perhaps the most significant statement of a liberal American future to have ever been penned and became perhaps the nation's most significant hotbed of protest activity against the American government. It was four years of rapid, violent metamorphoses. Opinions that defined lives were formed in the cauldron of war. Lifelong friendships were formed under fire.

Now, in 2005, here we are: four years that saw horrific terrorist attacks only miles from campus. Four years that saw the Afghan and Iraqi wars, historic Middle East elections, sniper fire, anthrax scares, gay marriages and the Second Intifada. Within four years we witnessed the death of a historic president and the re-election of another. There was stalemate at the United Nations and international disagreement regarding the Kyoto Protocol, along with the meteoric rise of the euro and the opening days of China's eventual dominance. The majority of citizens within other free democracies began to question whether America is a greater force for evil than for good. And now our college years are ending with the election of a pope who has aggressively questioned the teachings of the enlightenment and aspects of modern living.

We were within earshot of the conflicts that define our generation. Many of us sharpened the pencils of the world's most powerful men and women. We sat in the shadows in silent awe of the people and events around us. We are the AU class of 2005; we are in an extraordinary place and at an extraordinary time, among people who rose to extraordinary achievements in extraordinary circumstances.

And let there be no doubt: AU is an extraordinary place. Every one of us may have our differences with our school's administration regarding policy, priorities and personnel. But let us remember why we chose AU. It is in Washington. It is Washington. How many other colleges give you the ability to wander the streets of the capital of the world? What other school allows you to explore the most hidden chambers of our country's lore and envelop yourself in policy, debate and history?

The school is a microcosm of Washington with all the trends that mirror the city from whence it sprung. We were given front-row seats to history. Those who missed it have no one to blame but themselves. The rise of the Republicans to control of all three branches of government could be seen here with the increase in College Republican membership to nearly 30 times its previous size within the span of a year. Generation Dean, the first effective Democratic youth movement in a generation, was created in Anderson Hall. Few colleges, if any, saw the hysteria of the D.C. sniper attacks at such close range. And one could see the distant view of the rising smoke that came from the Pentagon on that awful day, the first day when we could realize that our formative years would be like no one's before.

There will be a time, long after these years are an all-too-distant memory, when every member of AU's class of 2005 will realize that we were witness to an experience utterly different from any before and incapable of being repeated. Others go about their daily business, and history never touches them. It never occurs to people that both current events and history matter more than the trivial concerns of any one person. But at AU, history and its making are living, breathing entities that are talked about with all the seriousness other schools give to the NCAA. If only for four years, AU students couldn't help but bear witness to extraordinary events.

In four years like no other, we, the seniors of American University, witnessed four years that will never be forgotten.

Ed O'Keefe is a senior in the School of Public Affairs. Evan Tucker is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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