Celebrating Founder’s Day, and 50 Years Since 1968

Dr. Vanessa Walker
Panelists Steve Ward, Dennis Kanin, Ann Roosevelt, and David Evans

On Thursday, November 1, students, faculty and staff took a break from classes to celebrate, together, Roxbury Latin’s annual Founder’s Day, in honor of the school’s founder John Eliot. Under Headmaster Brennan’s guidance, the school used this 50th anniversary occasion to examine the year 1968—a tumultuous year in our country and around the globe. In sessions throughout the day, students and adults learned about and explored the people and events of that year; its lasting imprint on the United States; and the parallels with our current state of affairs.


The day began in Rousmaniere Hall with an address by Dr. Vanessa Walker, the Morgan Assistant Professor in Diplomatic History at Amherst College. For her audience, Dr. Walker placed the American political landscape of 1968 in a broader global and historical context. Her opening remarks put a particular emphasis on youth activism and illuminated many parallels between the issues of 50 years ago and those of today. She discussed youth uprisings against governing forces around the world at that time—in Prague, China, Germany and Mexico—and the common language of dissent. The traditional Hall was complete with readings by Class I boys given in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and English and with rousing renditions of Jerusalem and The Founder’s Song. After Hall—and after donuts in homeroom!—everyone gathered in the Smith Theater for a viewing of the 1968 episode of the CNN documentary series The Sixties, introduced and contextualized by Smith Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Evan McCormick. In less than an hour the film covered massive anti-war protests; the devastating assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy; a violent Democratic National Convention; and the election of Richard Nixon. Immediately following the film we welcomed four thoughtful panelists who reflected on their own experiences of 1968 and answered boys’ questions about that time and place. Special thanks to our panelists, former board chair Dennis Kanin ‘64; former faculty member Steve Ward; Mrs. Ann Conlon Roosevelt; and former trustee David Evans for their firsthand accounts of political campaigns, police riots in Chicago, racial tensions and divides, and even life at RL in the late ’60s.


After the all-school photo in the gym, masters Mo Randall and Rob Opdycke treated boys and adults to a presentation on everyone’s favorite 1960’s topic: music. It was hard not to tap your feet as Mr. Randall and Mr. Opdycke introduced Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Muddy Waters, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, and many more artists who came to fame or were reinventing themselves across the country in 1968. A rousing game of Jeopardy!—with two representatives from each class—capped off the day. Class III pulled out an impressive win—though it’s unclear what was more impressive: their trivia knowledge or their lightning-fast buzzer-pushing skills. Contestants proved that they had been listening throughout the day, as they answered with “questions” illuminating their understanding of 1960’s history. You can get a feel for the day by viewing this video.


And, as always, after Founder’s Day comes Founder’s Day Pub Night. Later that evening, at Clery’s in Boston, about 50 alumni connected with faculty and friends to toast the Founder. View photos from that gathering here.