Finding Others Like Me at K
By Karen Johnson '74
To understand how I ended up at Kalamazoo College in the fall of 1970, I need to take you back 50 years to the turbulent 1960s.
The civil rights movement was gathering momentum, working to secure voting rights and education for everyone. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached non-violence as the way to foster these changes. But on April 4, 1968, the civil rights leader succumbed to an assassin's bullet, causing riots to erupt throughout the nation. Unrest continued when another champion of civil rights, presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy, was also assassinated a few months later.
The nightly news brought the Vietnam War into our living rooms. The 1968 Democratic National Convention clearly illustrated the divide in our country regarding the armed conflict as thousands of anti-war protestors clashed with police in riot gear. We worried about a draft that was sending our family, friends, neighbors and classmates to a war far away—with no guarantee of return.
I was only a teenager, but even then I knew discrimination was wrong. I also believed that sending young men and women to this war was unwarranted and senseless. These issues lead me to participate in civil rights marches in Philadelphia and anti-war protests in Washington, D.C.. I wore a peace symbol around my neck, and I was pretty vocal about my beliefs.
It was in the fall of 1969 when my high school principal called me into her office and asked me if I had ever considered early admission to college. I'd never heard of it, but if it would get me out of high school I was willing to give it a shot.
Kalamazoo College did offer an early admission program. I applied and was accepted. So off to K I went, with visions of studying literature and writing the great American novel, interspersed with periods of working for social justice.
At K I found a lot of like-minded people. I was no longer the odd one out. I was now with people who knew the difference between Tolkien and Tolstoy, and were happy to discuss just about everything. We talked a lot, trading ideas and talking about what had been said in class. We were not afraid to disagree with one another at times. The open discourse of ideas and issues was a valuable part of my K education. My interest in social justice deepened, and I felt free to discuss those ideas.
I spent the fall and winter of my sophomore year in the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLAC) Arts Program in New York City, interning at the Chelsea Theater Center at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Unfortunately, my time at K ended prematurely as I had to transfer to a less expensive school in the spring quarter of my sophomore year. At Kalamazoo College, I had discovered that one of the joys of a liberal arts education is it teaches you how to think and how to adapt to change. And if your mind is open, and you have developed critical thinking skills, you can do almost anything.
Flash forward 50 years. I didn't write the great American novel, but I did complete my bachelor's and earned a master's degree. I also retired from the automotive industry after a 30-year career. I'm still working for social justice—even if I'm no longer marching in the streets—and I take great delight in traveling. I write a travel blog and research subjects that catch my fancy.
When I began updating my estate plan, my attorney pushed hard for me to designate a beneficiary on all my bank, brokerage and retirement accounts. I had donated to K over the years and thought those gifts were utilized in a financially responsible manner. I decided to make Kalamazoo College the beneficiary of my traditional IRA. Maybe my estate gift will help future students complete their studies at K. Maybe one of them will write that great American novel.
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