Cornell’s Steve Ludsin: “The Graduate” and the end of youthful optimism

Last week,  the New York Times ran an opinion piece entitled “Why the Graduate is a Vietnam Movie. ”

In the piece, author Beverly Gray explains that  “in June 1967, while the film was still in production, President Lyndon Johnson signed a revamped Military Selective Service Act, signaling that within the year deferments for most graduate students would come to an end,” making them  “draft fodder. ”

“On its surface, ”  Gray writes,  “The Graduate  seemed to be an escapist film about love, sex and the potential for happily-ever-after.
“Its story, of how a new college graduate is seduced by the wife of his father’s partner and then runs off with …her pretty daughter, makes no claim to profundity. Still, it spoke loudly to a demographic that found itself embroiled in a war mandated by a previous generation.”

Many found the film a  ” perfect illustration of a young man struggling to cope with a social landscape over which he had no control…”  Clergymen, politicians,  pundits and military brass found it “subversive.”  Soldiers “embraced it as a comic howl against a status quo they were risking their lives to preserve.”

For my  classmate Steve  Ludsin (ILR 1970) of East Hampton,  New York, who saw the film as a Cornell undergrad, the film  provided  a new perspective on the era–opening his  eyes to the complacency of his upbringing and to the contrast of values once he entered college.

As he writes:

I was traveling on a winter break in Florida with upperclassmen and fraternity brothers from Cornell when I saw the film.

There were rumblings on campus about Vietnam along with our fears about the war and when we might be drafted. Nevertheless I did not perceive the movie to be about Vietnam. It was about being something other than the generation that raised us.

We didn’t know what that other was but we knew we were searching. Just hearing the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel still brings deep nostalgic feelings.

Perhaps the movie was the end of youthful optimism that was part of the baby boomer outlook.

We managed to get front row seats at the Supremes’ nightclub act during that trip.The picture of our smiles and clean cut Ivy League look is a time piece. Vietnam was on our minds but there was something bigger than that: an admission that our lives were not going to conform to the previous script. We didn’t know what the plot was but we knew we were going to Scarborough Fair. 

I also saw the film when it first came out and understood  it as a  commentary on a shallow,  materialistic society….but would never have imagined that people would still be talking about it 50 years later!

Anita M. Harris

Ithaca Diaries Review: A very fine, humorous account of Cornell U in the 1960s

PHoto, cornell University
Cornell University

This just in from Bill Fogle,Jr,  Cornell College of Engineering, 1970!

Ms. Harris has written a very fine and humorous account of Cornell University in the late nineteen-sixties, when the militant radicals, led by the Students for a Democratic Society, were fighting a two-front campaign: subverting the Kennedy-Johnson war in Southeast Asia and supporting black demands for an autonomous College of Afro-American Studies. These were the days when the inmates were most assuredly running the asylum.

I confess that I was an outsider looking in at this mayhem. It is true that both Ms. Harris and I arrived at Cornell in September 1966 as freshmen: she in the humanities wing of the College of Arts and Sciences (home of the impassioned culture-bomb throwers), and I in the College of Engineering (home of the stolid technologists). The headline events of those days ―lethal dormitory fires, frequent anti-war rallies and black takeovers of campus buildings― meant little to me then, as I was struggling with thermodynamics, fraternity pledging and NROTC duties that would lead to wartime service in the U.S. Marine Corps. But Ms. Harris was in the middle of this campus uproar and in a good position to report the emotional confusion of a surging political movement that did much to wreck interracial civility, academic freedom for the faculty, and the pre-war social order. So she was the touchy-feely liberal and I was the stone-hearted conservative. During our four years above Cayuga’s Waters we never met, and I wager it would have been a cat and dog moment if we had.

The turmoil on campus was driven by two distinct forces. The first was military conscription that could lead male students to unpleasantness and death in a war that was recognized as strategically unprofitable and politically unnecessary. The second cause was left-wing enthusiasm for University mission creep and social engineering; Cornell’s infamous Committee on Special Educational Projects (COSEP) was a naïve program designed to bring disadvantaged minorities to Ithaca for an educational boost into the American middle class. Alas, instead of recruiting appreciative young strivers with a serious appetite for learning, the Cornell admissions process opened the door to many radicalized, militant blacks with bad manners, a yen for tearing down the University, vague plans for a Uganda-like replacement, and demands that the Cornell trustees foot the bill. SDS embraced this agenda as the perfect complement to its anti-war campaign. But this I write with a half-century of hindsight.

Ms. Harris, referring to her diaries, provides an excellent description of how confusing it was for one situated at the epicenter of these swirling conflicts. Those outside the microcosm of Cornell were less confused and more alarmed. The New York Times reported extensively on the commotion in Ithaca; the image-conscious University administrators tried and failed to remove Times reporter Homer Bigart when his stories revealed the extent of the racial, ideological and philosophical conflict underway. Nationally syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak reported in May 1969 that something was seriously amiss.

” Even more bizarre was an incident two months later when the Afro-American Society (AAS) demanded $2,000 from the administration to buy bongo drums to celebrate Malcolm X Day. Within two days, the administration scraped together $1,700 and dispatched two black student leaders down to New York City in the university plane to purchase the drums.

“But pressed by a few faculty members, the administration did reluctantly bring charges against six of the more flagrant December demonstrators. Consequently once the blacks won their demand for an autonomous black studies program early this year, radicals stepped up direct action around a general theme of amnesty for the six demonstrators.

To the accompaniment of the University-purchased bongo drums, [University president] Perkins on Feb. 28 was physically pulled down from a speaker’s platform at a conference on South Africa. A few days later, job recruiters from the Chase Manhattan Bank were physically assaulted. In mid-March, three white students were beaten at night on campus — one to the point of death; two of the victims identified their assailants as Negroes while the third was in no condition to identify anybody. ”

By then the University administration was thoroughly intimidated and desperate to avoid confrontation. The faculty split on questions of disciplining the miscreants. The blacks saw their chance: they cleverly set fire to a cross outside a black women’s dormitory, occupied the Willard Straight Hall student union in response to this staged provocation, then armed themselves with an assortment of firearms and issued their demands. The University caved. A photograph of well-armed blacks marching out of the occupied building ran in media worldwide. Several professors quit in disgust with a cowardly administration, and one died, a suicide.

The delight of this book is the picture of undergraduate life that Ms. Harris provides. The problems of finding congenial roommates, tolerable housing, a decent diet and exercise will always be with us. The associations that we make with students and faculty last a lifetime, and for many of us expand. Cornell is an outstanding university because, despite the rain, the winter and the relative isolation, it is simply a great place. We learn a little while there, and a lot after ―turning over old memories for another look, again and again.
William Fogle, Jr. ‘70

Mesa,  AZ

Ithaca Diaries Fall update: reviews, event, video

Glen Haven, NY, Historical Society Hosts Ithaca Diaries Discussion

Glenhaven16The Glen Haven Historical Society (GHHS) held a discussion of Anita HARRIS’ new book, Ithaca Diaries, in Homer, NY, on August 19. Organizers Marilyn REINER Levine, ’68, and Lauren REINER Jastremski, ’64, are Milne School graduates and sisters who realized that Anita, ’66, and her sister, Laura HARRIS Hirsch, ’68, also went to Milne when they (the Reiner sisters) started reading the book.

The Milne School, in Albany, New York, founded in 1845, was a campus laboratory school of what is now State University of New York at Albany until Milne closed in 1977). 

Lauren is secretary of the Glen Haven Historical Society. Diane BAKKE Tennant, ’64, vice president and trustees’ chair of the GHHS, also helped organize the event.

Joyce CAREY Methelis, ’66, attended; she reports a lively conversation that brought back vivid memories of college in the late 1960s–which is what Ithaca Diaries is about. More information and links to interviews, reviews, and video relating to the book are available at

Anita M. Harris

Cornell video of Straight Takeover, 1969, now online

wstakeover_35 (1)After working on Ithaca Diaries for eight years, I was honored to be interviewed on NPR’s Here and Now  earlier this month. I was totally impressed that their diligent researchers  discovered that the Cornell University Rare Books Library recently compiled video of  the  takeover of Willard Straight Hall by more than 100 black students,  on parents’ weekend,  in April, 1969.

As Ithaca Diaries readers know, the Straight takeover was a central event in my life and in the university’s  transition from ivory tower to the diverse and forwarding-looking institution it is today.

For me, having been front and center when the  students emerged with those rifles, seeing the silent footage felt eerie.Here’s a link to the video–which, , does need some editing as the various cuts seem to repeat.  I’d love to know your thoughts. 

Anita M. Harris is the author of Ithaca Diaries, a nonfiction coming-of-age memoir/social history of college in the late 1960s. The book is available from Amazon, Kindle, and the Cornell Store. 

Cornell Reunion 2015 Highlights & Photos

Had a fine time at Cornell Reunion in early June…Highlights (for me) included:

Book signing with James McConkey, my freshman writing teacher,  who required us to keep diaries  and has been a  friend and mentor ever since.

Jim McConkey & Anita Harris, Cornell Booksigning, 6/6/2015
Jim McConkey & Anita Harris, Cornell Booksigning, 6/6/2015

H earing  Bob Langer, world renowned MIT bioengineer/multi-companyfounder (below)

Photo, Bob Langer, Cornell Reunion 2015
Bob Langer, Cornell Reunion 2015 c. Mark Hoffman

and Ed Zuckerman, show runner for “Law and Order Special Victims Unit”  speak about their careers.

Ed Zuckerman, Cornell Reunion 2015
Ed Zuckerman, Cornell Reunion 2015

Both  friends of mine at Cornell, they   are IN Ithaca Diariesand, remarkably, still speaking to me….tho I don’t think Bob has read it, yet).

Here’s a photo of outgoing president David Skorton (front) , who joined our class for dinner (he graduated in1970 from Northwestern; worked his way through as a jazz flutist before going to medical school and becoming a cardiologist; he’s departing Cornell for the Smithsonian.

Photo of Cornell President David Skorton
Cornell Prez David Skorton, Class of 1970 Dinner, Reunion 2015

Also enjoyed visiting the…music tents with Ed Z and Mark Hoffman

Beer tent, Cornell reunion 2015
Cornell Reunion tent 2015 c. Mark Hoffman

and love this photo of Mark and the Cornell Bear.

Mark Hoffman w Cornell Bear, Cornell 1970 Reunion 2015
Mark Hoffman w Cornell Bear, Cornell 1970 Reunion 2015

Many thanks to reunion organizers Bill and Gail Wallace

Class reunion organizers Bill and Gail Wallace Cornell 2015
Class reunion organizers Bill and Gail Wallace
Cornell 2015

(with hopes someone has fixed the elevators by now).

Carl Becker House Cornell Reunion 2015
Carl Becker House Cornell Reunion 2015

Also thanks to Mark Hoffman for sharing his photos, which are copyrighted.

BTW–I hope you’ll  follow me on twitter..Evidently, you need followers to get followers!

Anita Harris
Anita M. Harris is the author of Ithaca DIaries, a memoir/social history of Cornell University, 1966-1970.  It’s available from Amazon, Kindle and the Cornell Store.


Photos, thanks from Anita Harris, Cornell Club Ithaca Diaries Event, Boston, at last!

IMG_5124Apologies for taking so long to post photos–but want to thank everyone who came to the Cornell Club of Boston Ithaca Diaries event in April–my first talk on the published (yay!) book. Was very gratified by your warm response….and totally grateful  everyone who helped make the event what even I have to admit was a great success:
especially:  Pam Decatur and the Cambridge Innovation Center; Raffi Hirsch; Paul Hayre, Scott Sanders,  Mark Hoffman, R Mc (who doesn’t want his name out on the Internet) Marc Kessler, , and Elsie, of Star Market. Hoping to have  the video edited soon; please contact me if you’d like to know when it’s available. Anita

Please click here to view  more photos–all shot by Mark Hoffman. (Thanks again, Mark).

Anita Harris
–AKA Anita M. Harris, as there are  an actual rock star and other authors with my name!

Ithaca Diaries supporter confronts Boston racism; please help fund her campaign.

Children’s author, fellow Cornell alum and friend Irene Smalls, who lives in Boston  (and promoted Ithaca Diaries at the Frankfurt Book Festival and  contributed books to  the kickstarter campaign)  writes:

Irene Smalls fenceSometime yesterday someone scrawled on the side of my house “Every nigger is a star.”  I was stunned.  I have lived in my neighbohood in downtown Boston for 38 years without incident.  Now, someone is perpetrating a silent assault against me personally and my property  with the “n word.”  I don’t know if it was a prank or a threat. Either way I get a chill entering my front door each day now.  I feel violated and ignored at the same time.  Who ever did this does not know I write books for all children or that I volunteer in the community.  I am raising money to demolish the offensive fence and put security cameras around my property. I am preparing.  My hope is this will never happen again but I am getting ready in case this racist message was real.   I will not be forced out of my neighborhood by hoods or threat of harm.

Please join me in  helping Irene fund her “go fund me”  campaign to replace the fence?  .

Anita M. Harris

Anita Harris is a writer and communications consultant based in Cambridge, MA. Her new book, Ithaca Diaries, was published earlier this year by Cambridge Common Press. A new edition of Broken Patterns, Professional Women and the Quest for a New Feminine Identity came out in 2014.  Both are available  from Amazon and Kindle at

Cornell Ezra Mag Features Ithaca Diaries

Screenshot 2014-12-24 15.35.08

Cornell University’s Ezra alumni magazine  published a wonderful story on Ithaca Diaries...(December 24, 2014) but because it’s not an official “review” I’m not supposed to quote from it.  The article describes the book in glowing terms–I’m thrilled!

Here’s a link–in case you want to have a look for yourself!
Alumna’s Ithaca Diaries recounts transformative tim

Anita M. Harris

“Ithaca Diaries” Cornell Memoir Now on Amazon

Book Cover-Cambridge Common Press is pleased to announce that an advance edition of Ithaca Diaries ,by Anita M. Harris, is now available for purchase in paperback and kindle formats via

Ithaca Diaries, is a coming of age memoir set at Cornell University in the tumultuous 1960s. The story is told in first person from the point of view of a smart, sassy, funny, scared, sophisticated yet naïve college student who can laugh at herself while she and the world around her are having a nervous breakdown. Based on the author’s diaries and letters, interviews and other primary and secondary accounts of the time, Ithaca Diaries describes collegiate life as protests, politics, and violence increasingly engulf the student, her campus, and her nation. Her irreverent observations serve as a prism for understanding what it was like to live through those tumultuous times.

An official launch is slated for mid-January, 2015.

Coming of Age in the 1960s

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