Boomers, Xers, Echo

America was still in Vietnam when UC Irvine opened in 1965. Jobs sprung from the dirt along with new housing complexes and turfgrass and thousands were attracted to the palm-treed paradise. War vets, Asian immigrants, Latino immigrants, African-Americans —pretty much everyone flocked to California.  Meanwhile, UCI was just a few buildings situated in dry isolation surrounded by miles of dirt and blue sky.

The baby boomers stepped onto the fresh UCI campus. They were the tie-dye-wearing generation who braided their hair, protested and sang “I want to hold your hand” while holding up the two-finger peace sign. They survived Vietnam and waited hours to fill their tanks during the gas shortage of the ’70s, but most probably know them as mom and dad.

Daniel G. Aldrich was the first chancellor of UCI. Parking was $6 per quarter and tuition was $980, but school was free for California residents. There were 1,500  students who stepped in and out of the student bookstore which looked more like a portable school house in the middle of the desert.

Students snatched up a copy of the school paper, “The Spectrum” or its rival “The Tongue.” Each week’s moments were pictured in the black-and-white photos of Martin L. King, who sat crossed-legged inside segregated restaurants; Neil Armstrong as he cemented his footprint on the moon; and anti-war protestors picketed across campuses.

The top debated issues were birth control pills, Roe v. Wade and the draft. Oh, and how could one forget Woodstock and LSD? Then again, to some baby boomers, the past is just a blurry image of swirling colors.

Then along came Generation X, who strutted up the campus steps and popularized bladed sunglasses, leg warmers, ripped jeans and “Pacman.” They waved their divorced parents goodbye and screamed out the car window, “Smells like teen spirit!” During their years, Michael Jackson was black and more Americans started snorting lines of cocaine, President Bush entered Iraq and Marty McFly drove a Delorean into the 1950s.

Jack W. Peltason was the second chancellor of UCI. Parking was $54 per quarter and tuition was $800.  Thousands of students gathered outside Langson Library for the Rainbow Festival. They celebrated UCI’s diversity with barbecued meats, drums, dancers, singers and hundreds of stringed balloons.

The New University was the official campus paper and on the front page was President Ronald Reagan’s quote, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” and the pictures of two UCI faculty members who were awarded the Nobel Prize, Professor Frederick Reines for physics and Frank S. Rowland for chemistry.  The top discussions were AIDS, gay rights and the War on Drugs.

And here is 2012. The Echo Boomer generation born after X and fathered by the baby boomers. Michael V. Drake is chancellor, parking is $57 per quarter, tuition is $13,000 for California residents and $36,000 for non-residents, and The New University is still the official school paper.

So how has UCI changed since 1965? There is the greener, more suburban landscape and the obvious increases in tuition and parking prices — unfortunately we’ve become accustomed to that news. The better question is, what is UCI? Besides the obvious answer that it’s a school. UCI is a melting pot of ideologies, races, cultures and all other social idiosyncrasies that divide populations. Of course the same can be said for all universities, but it is true all the same.

College is the first time that many young adults step away from the protective embraces of their mothers and fathers; it is that first tiny step toward responsibility, but not quite adulthood. The baby boomers protested civil rights and Gen X argued over gay rights and the drug war. They grabbed a profession and took away their experiences from UCI, whether they were positive or negative.

Ultimately, a school is just a building symbolizing a community’s dedication toward education, but the quality and the greatness of a university is decided by its students.

 

Nidia Sandoval is a third-year history major. She can be reached at nidias@uci.edu.