Fifty years ago on a Sunday afternoon June 7, 1964, 90 Elementary Education Majors, 13 Secondary Education Majors, 27 Music Majors and 2 English Majors received their degrees from the Massachusetts State College at Lowell. With words of wisdom from the Rt. Reverend George Casey, Editor of the Archdiocese of Boston Catholic newspaper, The Pilot at the Bacculaureate service earlier that morning in the Little Theater fresh in our minds, the afternoon Commencement ceremony – the 70th at Lowell – brought us outdoors to the athletic fields just below the knoll between Broadway and Pawtucket Streets. Processing to “Pomp and Circumstance,” we carried our blue-lined hoods to our wooden seats to await the music, the flag ceremony, the presentation of the class gift by Class President George Perrone, the conferring of degrees by State Education Commissioner John Salerno, presentation of Honors by College President Dr. Daniel O’Leary followed by the Commencement address given by our fairly new and very young U.S. Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy. Earlier in the day, he gave the Commencement address across the Merrimack River at Lowell Technological Institute (LTI) where he received an Honorary Degree along with six others including well-known Lowell businessman Joseph E. Sullivan of Sullivan Brothers, Printers. Senator Kennedy brought a federal grant check of $22,000 for the LIT Research Foundation. He squeezed in a visit with the Columbian Squires where he got the check – money for the Kennedy Memorial Fund. There was no check for Lowell State but our class gift was a poignant reminder to the Senator – it was a bronze bust of his late brother – President John F. Kennedy. Looking back with the perspective of time and years of personal political activity, I have a far better appreciation of the politics and the influences of that day. Matters got complicated for that Kennedy visit to Lowell. Just the night before, Lull and Hartford Sporting Goods Store on Prescott Street in downtown Lowell was broken into and one or two pistols – starter pistols if I remember correctly – were stolen. Given the security concerns that ever surrounded the Senator, it wasn’t surprising to see law enforcement types visible along the knoll overlooking the field and who knows what less visible types elsewhere. In an irony of interest to me, there was an FBI presence as well. James L. Handley, SAC of the Boston/New England office of the FBI was also at the Commencement. But it was planned well beforehand. Jimmy Handley was my uncle, married to Dad’s sister Margaret Kirwin. We had a big family presence at Lowell State that day… as the oldest cousin on the Deignan side and the second oldest on the Kirwin side my parents had planned a family and friends celebration for Ivy Hall to mark the milestone of that degree. And so all nature of excitement was around that memorable day. Nothing untoward happened; the Senator was safe; Dr. O’Leary and President Lydon has Commenments without a hitch; the graduates were happy and relieved; a new crop of well-educated and trained educators were ready to serve.
My job prospects were not finalized on that day in June but a few weeks later – as a result of my McCarty Bill-mandated teacher exam, an interview and my place on the “list”- my name was brought before the Lowell School Committee by Superintendent of Schools Vincent P. McCartin. I was hired on a unanimous vote to teach English and History at Lowell High School. In an ironic twist, there was another name presented that night – William E. Sweeney – a recent grad of Boston College – who ranked at the top of two lists – was hired to teach Science and Math at Lowell High School. As they say, the rest is “history.”
I look forward to joining others from the Class of 1964 this Saturday at the UMass Lowell Commencement when we will lead the Class of 2014 into its future.
Note: The late Dr. Chris Copley was our class advisor – a wonderful man!