A Step into the Unknown Commencement at Tufts University


The turbulent decade of the 1960's was marked by growing societal unrest which pervaded the Tufts campus and its Commencement ceremonies, although the basic structure and ritual of the ceremony remained for the most part intact.

On June 8, 1963 Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed the Tufts Commencement, five months before he would assume the Presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

The struggle for Civil Rights was one of the defining historical influences of the decade and a number of participants in Tufts Commencement played high-profile roles in it. June 5, 1965 Weekly Honorary degree given to Carl A. Elliott who would later win the first Profiles in Courage award for his support of Civil Rights. The Commencement speaker for 1965 was Nicholas Katzenbach, the U.S. Attorney General. On June 11 of 1963 Katzenbach had been involved in one of the most widely publicized incidents of the period when he confronted George Wallace in a doorway at the University of Alabama as the latter was trying to prevent two black students from enrolling.

The Class of 1969’s graduation ceremony featured a watershed moment for Tufts’ LGBTQ+ community, when a student came out on stage – prior to the landmark Stonewall Riots of June 1969 and the establishment of any groups for gay students at Tufts. According to an article on the front page of the September 8, 1969 Observer, the brave student “yelled his message into the bedlam of insulted parents, glaring cops, and dumbfounded graduates. And then he left, applauded by many of his classmates, but by none of their elders.”