A Changed World: Ode to 1919

I’ve had many wonderful opportunities as an archivist to work with exceptional students here at RPI. One such student, Noah Zucker, is graduating with the Class of 2019 this year with a degree in Computer Science. Noah recently told me that as of July, he’ll be working for Facebook as a Designer for Social Virtual Reality. I couldn’t be happier for him, and I’m so thankful to have worked with him on a large augmented reality project for the Archives, during the summer of 2017.

As an archivist I think about the classes that come and go, year after year, decade after decade. Being surrounded by 195 years of student history on a daily basis has that affect on an archivist! I’m always pondering how our students have shaped the memory of the Institute, as well as the world they’re about to enter when they leave dear old R.P.I. This year, as we approach the Two Hundred and Thirteenth commencement, I think about the students of the Class of 1919. They had a much different experience, one which was worlds apart from contemporary life today.

Class of 1919 group photograph on The Approach
Class of 1919 group photograph on The Approach

The class of 1919, entered the Institute in September 1915 with 180 students. Student life was marked by the usual “stuff” of college life, games and events, rushes and elections, and lectures and exams. However, college life was experienced with the backdrop of World War I an ocean away, evolving and shaping the future to come. By April 1917, the class of 1919, in their sophomore year, saw a tidal wave of change, when most of the class members that entered went in the direction of immediate military service. Adding to this abrupt change, “Seniors became privates; freshman non-coms…Drill was added to the curriculum; forty-five square feet of barracks…and a uniform of indefinite fit augmented each man’s possessions. With commencement now in plain sight, to get by and be recommended for an officer’s camp became [their] chief end in life.” Thankfully, they awoke one morning to find the war over, but of the 180 students that entered the class, only 58 graduated in 1919.

To the Class of 2019, we wish you the best of luck, and we can’t wait to witness how you change the world! Certainly there are good things to come in your future!

Panoramic photograph of the 760 members of the 1919 Rensselaer student body taken in front of Russell Sage Laboratory. The students would have been posed in a horseshoe curve facing a camera mounted on a swivel tripod. The photograph was taken by Charles Pieper of Troy.
Panoramic photograph of the 760 members of the 1919 Rensselaer student body taken in front of Russell Sage Laboratory. The students would have been posed in a horseshoe curve facing a camera mounted on a swivel tripod. The photograph was taken by Charles Pieper of Troy.

For more on Rensselaer and the Great War, read this post

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