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The freshmen hippies of Lyons Hall

Gary Caruso | Thursday, August 27, 2009

Forty years ago today, we Lyons Hall freshmen had barely completed a week’s worth of school work taught by eminent University professors as well as mere graduate assistants wearing sweaters and smoking pipes to appear more professorial. During the Fall of 1969, our chaotic and iconic decade was in decline, but most of us had no idea how our lives and time could someday come full circle. Those who were most relentless in their desire for a peaceful society were labeled “hippies.”

That autumn was the first time in Notre Dame history that every dormitory on campus reserved a fourth of its residential space for freshman. We each chose a typical freshman dormitory like Stanford and Keenan. None of us imagined that a computer would thrust us to the outreaches of the South Quad. Lyons was an upper-class study hall with grade point averages bottoming out in the 3.8 range. But in a matter of weeks, my class of freshman hippies shattered that reputation with a flurry of course failures and pink slip warnings.

In 1969, the world – and more directly the Notre Dame computer – bestowed a mix of blessings and curses like my 8 a.m. classes every day, including Saturday morning. Yet thanks to that computer, the first freshmen of Lyons became lifelong friends. Blue-collar conservative-thinking, Vietnam War-supporting, short-haired Democrats like me survived random placement. My Orange County, Calif. conservative Republican roommate who worshiped the free market system brought his girlfriend and mother to help him move. His mother left after two days … his girlfriend after two weeks.

Our other two New England long-haired, peace-advocating liberal hippy roommates anchored their half of the 318 quad. One left school after a month. The other hippy roommate, Jim Hynes, had just attended an outdoor festival in New York called Woodstock. His large flowing, curly Afro-styled hair dwarfed his face and thick, geeky glasses as he passionately described the incredible music and ultimate love-fest in the mud. Someone called him “Hairman,” which has stuck as his nickname now for four decades.

Gradually we nicknamed our diverse group of guys with abbreviations like Murph, Sol, Leps and Kelly along with more cryptic names like the Duck, E-well, Ratman, Bird, Mouse, the Cretan and the Pumpkin – our late class president, Steve Pallucca, who not only shared his birthday with John Belushi, but lived “Animal House” with us years before it was ever written. In 1969, we were a society scarred by the raging Vietnam War, and yet I could laugh at the Pumpkin’s antics while learning personal generosity from him.

Blue-collar students learned what wealth lay beyond their neighborhoods. Chicagoan and fellow freshman Mike Paulius sometimes worked 12-hour days at his summer job in a steel mill for two solid weeks to defray tuition. Being indoors all summer left him with uncharacteristically pale skin. He too believed Woodstock a chaotic failure until hearing Hairman’s firsthand account.

Our generation’s now classic music evolved through genres like Led Zeppelin’s new heavy metal sound or The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. It was a year when “Sesame Street” excitedly debuted in hopes that low-income children could learn through the medium of television. Yet “The Brady Bunch” premiered between the Charles Manson mass murders and the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge killing his passenger, but NASA launched four Apollo missions which included two moon landings.

Our government prepared the first military draft of us freshmen. At Harvard University, nearly 300 students seized a building where 45 were injured and 184 arrested. Protests continued through the convergence of the civil rights and women’s rights movements with the first gay protest at Stonewall. All were labeled hippies. Nationwide, my fellow freshman hippies used Woodstock as the benchmark of free speech and equality for the anti-war, gender and civil rights movements. Music resonated as the soul behind our ideals of civility and sharing.

Some places are made sacred by the people and events that grace them. Today, as the Class of Lucky ’13 finds its way on campus, they may hear the songs of generations past whispering to them if they dare listen. The blood of the Notre Dame bricks gently oozes if they but look. Insight comes when stepping away from the crowd. Truth derives from unconditional acceptance of others, and respect for all of mankind. In many ways, today is no different than 1969. It merely has fewer freshmen hippies.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a

communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s

administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be

contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.