Looking Back at College in the 1970s … 10 Experiences We’ll Never Forget!

For many of us September is the best month of the year. Memories flood back of new school supplies, catching up with friends we haven’t seen all summer, and the smell of new books with their promise of new knowledge. Our college years in particular hold special memories. For Road Scholars, that was a long time ago and lasted for only four years (well, for most of us anyway) but it weighs more heavily in the balance of our memories than any other four-year span. Why is that? We asked 864 Road Scholars to tell us about their best college memories—here are the 10 they hold most dear:

Photo credit: Ed Uthman licensed under CC BY 2.0

#1. Lifelong Friends

College lasts only a few years but the friends we make there can last a lifetime. “We met in college in Washington,” one Road Scholar told us. “We came to California after graduation, got jobs, married, raised our families together and just celebrated our 80th birthdays.” Another: “I made lifelong friends, eight of whom get together somewhere in the U.S. every two years for several days.” Some of those friends became lovers and spouses: “My favorite memories of my college experience all concern meeting, dating, and marrying my wife.” “The most positive memory of my college experience is that I met my husband when he had to observe the student teacher in the campus school for his education class. I was the student teacher!”

#2. Influential Professors

A great professor can change the way we view the world. “I had an anthropology professor who sparked my interest in other people, cultures, and locations around the world.” “I took a ‘Great Ideas of Western Man’ class my freshman year from a wonderful professor who sparked my interest in art, culture, and music.” “Two professors helped me prove to myself that I could think independently, not remain in the small world I’d experienced with family back home.” “I had a professor who believed that I could amount to something. He even provided a scholarship so that I could study for a summer in the Middle East, which changed my life.”

Photo credit: Ed Uthman licensed under CC BY 2.0

#3. Learning!

For many respondents the greatest memory was simply of learning something new. Some of the lessons had sustained practical value: “I learned a lot about Buddhism and have used that information and knowledge for many years in my personal and professional life.” “My engineering studies taught me how to solve problems, whether they are technical, scientific, or just those everyday circumstances that pop up from time to time.” Other lessons were simply about the joy of learning something new: “For the first time I became totally absorbed in exploring more knowledge on a wide range of subjects.” “I gained a deeper understanding and interest in Shakespeare and the early modern world.”

#4. Broadened Perspectives

For many college was a transformative experience where horizons were expanded and smug assumptions were challenged. “It was an atmosphere where my thoughts and creative processes were welcomed and encouraged.” “Enormous personal growth that tested whether the ethics I was taught at home growing up still applied to my life.” “Four years spent a thousand miles from home were life changing!” “This was a time in my life when I began to discover what being a feminist meant to me.”

Photo credit: Ed Uthman licensed under CC BY 2.0

#5. Extracurricular Activities

For some the meaningful aspect of college was outside the classroom. “Traveling with the college band.” “Three years of political conflict with the administration.” “I was a theater minor and I learned so much in the workshop behind the stage and in the lighting box. The green room was a place where non-Greeks had their own ‘club’ and creativity abounded. Working for hours on a play and then seeing it come to life was a journey and source of pride.” “I started a volunteer group with three others and watched it grow.”

#6. A Time and a Place

For some college memories are inextricably connected to a specific location. “Living in Boston with a great mix of culture, history and energy, and an easy drive to mountains and Cape Cod.” “My first experience living and studying with people of other races and religious backgrounds. I went from a mostly white suburb of Detroit to the University of Michigan in the 1960s, with all of the Vietnam War protests and issues. A real trial by fire.” “I am an Ohio State Buckeye and more than 50 years later I am still a loyal Buckeyes fan.” “I grew up in Baltimore and went to college in New Orleans. I enjoyed the new culture, including the Cajun and French influences, and went to several of the crew balls held in the weeks before Mardi Gras.”

Photo credit: Ed Uthman licensed under CC BY 2.0

#7. Kicking off a Career

Some found their life’s calling in college. “I pursued my passion in college and have made art my vocation. Still ‘doing it’ and exhibiting.” “Got heavily involved in theater, which directed my career path into radio and TV.”

#8. Study Abroad

Some had their first taste of travel in college, sparking a lifelong interest. “I lived with an Austrian family. I experienced another culture, with a different language, and it had a tremendous impact on me. I also traveled a lot while there. I have had the travel bug ever since.” “In the summer of 1986 I studied Russian language and culture in Leningrad and Moscow with my college professors and other Russian students. The trip was incredibly well-planned and changed my life.” “I spent my junior year in college in Dijon, France, studying French language and civilization. This was a transformative year for me.”

Photo credit: Ed Uthman licensed under CC BY 2.0

#9. Independence

Away from home! “I learned how to live on my own, budgeting my money to make ends meet, following time schedules to get done what had to be done but still leaving time for recreation. College opened time to challenge myself and take risks but still have the restrictions which gave me safety.” “It was the first time I felt truly independent and on my own.”

#10. Sports

Competitive athletes remember the friends they made and the challenges they overcame. “I played on the college tennis team for four years and it was a great opportunity to meet like-minded students from all over the country and share our love of the game. Fun road trips to 'away' matches, that is, opportunities to travel around New York to play tennis against other colleges.”

What does September mean to you? What are your positive memories of college? Did you have any regrets or wish that you had done things differently?


About the Author
Peter Spiers is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Outreach at Road Scholar. He is the author of “Master Class: Living Longer, Strong, and Happier,” recently selected by The Washington Post as one of the best books to read at every age, 1 to 100 (Peter’s book was selected for age 70). Spiers holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and a master of science from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

  • Times they were a-changing! Surprised nobody mentioned this. At my college, Queens College (now part of CUNY),  a commuter school in NYC with its often frigid winters, women were not allowed to wear slacks. One of my fondest college memories is the protest that happened one day, where we came to school wearing slacks. Some professors kicked women out of class for this. Another big social movement was the fight to preserve free tuition at the city's colleges: "Our position, no tuition." Well, good to see we're coming back to that very democratic notion these days. Last but not least, my campus like many others saw the beginnings of the anti-Vietnam-War movement.

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