Clinton's class of '68

June 04, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

As college reunions go, this one seems fairly typical: Alumni have been converging on campus all week, marveling at how much has changed, revisiting old haunts and, no doubt, checking whether the class bombshell still is and the most-likely-to-succeed ever did.

But tomorrow night, when one of the class members hosts the big dinner-dance at his place, and his place just happens to be the White House, the 25th reunion of Georgetown University's Class of 1968 becomes no ordinary stroll down memory lane.

Having President Clinton in your class means that you get name acts like the Drifters and Chuck Berry performing at your party and a greater turnout than the usual alum gathering at the local Holiday Inn. More than 600 graduates plus their spouses or dates are expected for tomorrow's fete on the South Lawn of the White House. (Georgetown estimates it sent invites to some 800 graduates for whom it had addresses.)

"We have reunions every five years -- and he's been to all the ones I've been to -- but this one will be especially great fun, being at the White House," says Thomas Caplan, a Baltimore novelist who shared an off-campus house with Bill Clinton and three other friends during their senior year at Georgetown. "He had all of us roommates over there one weekend and, it's funny, you ask yourself, 'What are you doing here?' "

Indeed. If, after only 4 1/2 months, the Clinton presidency seems long past its honeymoon phase with the media and the general public, for his former classmates it's still a point of pride and a bit of amusement that one of their own is running the country.

"I've never been a name-dropper, but this has changed me," jokes Stephen Sfekas, a partner with the Baltimore law firm Weinberg & Green who, like the president, majored in international affairs at Georgetown and was greatly influenced by a certain curmudgeonly history professor.

"I remember in '68, Carroll Quigley was very upset about all the divisions in the university -- the war and the anti-war movement -- and that spring he was feeling very apocalyptic. I remember him saying, as far as he could see, no one in the Class of '68 would ever amount to anything," Mr. Sfekas says of the late scholar and writer, who didn't live long enough to hear himself quoted by a former student accepting the presidential nomination at the last year's Democratic convention.

While Mr. Clinton is the biggest name in his class,he's not the only one to prove Professor Quigley wrong. He's not even the only head of state: Alfredo Cristiani, also Georgetown '68, and president of El Salvador, is expected in town for the reunion. Then there's Grammy-winner Bill Danoff, who co-wrote the John Denver hit, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and formed the Starland Vocal Band (of "Afternoon Delight" fame), which also will perform tomorrow night.

Even before they had a president in their midst to draw them back together, the Class of '68 was always close-knit. Born in the first year of the post-World War II baby boom, beneficiaries of the prosperity of the '50s and the youth culture of the '60s, they were drawn together by the political and social upheaval of their college years, members say.

"Our lives were molded by the tempest of the times. The chemistry was extraordinarily compatible," says Tim Chorba, an attorney with the Washington power firm Patton Boggs & Blow. "We were the first year of the baby boom. We drove our parents crazy. We challenged the established order in a lot of things. We were the first class affected by the Beatles. And the other classes before us, their lives weren't torn apart by the draft the way ours were."

The year they graduated was particularly wrenching: It opened with the Tet Offensive that, on the home front, turned the psychological tide against the Vietnam War. In April, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and many of the nation's cities subsequently went up in flames -- Georgetown graduates recall looking down from their hilltop campus and seeing smoke rising from the inner city of Washington.

And, in June, just as they were poised to graduate, Robert Kennedy was killed -- and, along with him,many of the hopes of turning around both the country and the war.

"That was devastating to me, and it was devastating to Bill Clinton," recalls Mr. Caplan, who as a Georgetown student volunteered in Senator Kennedy's office. Many graduation-related events were canceled because of the assassination, including an on-campus luau party that the class will hold tonight instead.

Even before their tumultuous last year at Georgetown, political change had been the hallmark of their school years, class members say, beginning with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy during their senior year of high school.

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