Terry McGinnis

McGinnis headshotA Veteran’s Perspective on Entering the Class of 1975
The fall of 1972 was a time for transition for all members of the Class of 1975. For a great majority, it was a fairly easy transition from a college campus to an idyllic law school setting. For others, Boston College Law School was a first step in a long contemplated change of careers. But for a few of us–the military veterans in the class–the change was far more dramatic.

The dilemma 
As the French say, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” That can certainly be said of the turmoil in world events in 1972 and similar international unrest in 2015. By the end of 1972, the drawdown of troops from Vietnam had begun in earnest. A few members of our class had served in Vietnam, some in combat roles, while others, such as I, had been deployed with military units in other parts of a troubled world. Veterans returning to civilian life faced many uncertainties, much like the returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015. But unlike veterans of today, the Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans of 1972 had the added challenge of integrating back into civilian communities that were, at best, ambivalent about us and the roles we played in a controversial military engagement. And that ambivalence was, in retrospect, understandable given the disruptive impact that the war in Vietnam had on the political and social fabric of our country. For that reason, most of us, if not all, chose simply to fit in and to keep a low profile, as if those immediate past years of our young lives had never really happened.

McGinnis Navy

An uncertain start
While keeping a low profile made sense, it did not quite work for me. When I was accepted into the class of 1975 at BC Law, I was serving as a Navy lieutenant assigned to a ship deployed with the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet. Because my obligated active service was to end in October 1972, I applied to the Navy for a three-month early release so that I could join our class orientation at the end of August. My request was granted, with the caveat that my early release was “dependent on the needs of the Navy.” As August approached, needless to say, the “needs of the Navy” changed, and our ship deployment was extended to October.

Discouraged and worried that another year would go by before I could begin law school, I contacted Dean Huber. Fortunately for me, he was a Naval Academy graduate and understood my concerns. He suggested that I join the class in progress when I was finally released from active duty. If I “passed” my practice exams in December, I could continue with the class of 1975. If I did not, I could return with the class of 1976. Grateful, I accepted his kind offer.

On Friday, October 13, 1972, my ship returned to Norfolk, Virginia, from its extended deployment. On Saturday, I was de-briefed, relieved of duties by my successor, and released from active duty. On Sunday, with my Datsun packed, I drove to my parents’ home in the Boston area to a “Welcome Home” sign in the front yard. On Monday, October 16, I showed up in Dean Huber’s office, dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, with a fresh military haircut and an empty brief case that had been given to me by the enlisted members of my division as a going away present. It was not exactly an apt disguise for someone looking to “fit in” on a college campus in 1972!

Full speed ahead
After I absorbed the culture shock of my rapid re-entry into the civilian world and having met with some very skeptical members of the faculty, I was able to put my military discipline to work and dove into my first-year studies, albeit a few months late. Several of our classmates were very generous, sharing class notes and giving me advice and guidance (and I owe a special thanks to an unknown classmate who advised me after my first week that I should also be in a class called Contracts!). Within weeks, I began to recognize the telltale signs that signaled other members of the Class of 1975 who were also veterans and with whom I began friendships that have lasted a lifetime. The December practice exams came and went, and I did reasonably well, considering the circumstances. Finally, I was an official member of the Class of 1975!

BC Law community
Looking back some 40 years, I will always be grateful to the late Dean Huber for giving me that “extra year” as a lawyer and to the other vets and classmates who welcomed me. But the person to whom I am most indebted for helping to ease a very difficult transition is Professor Mary Ann Glendon. If she had doubts about my ability to make the cut, she never conveyed them to me. On the contrary, she encouraged and supported my efforts. She would reassure me when I had the temerity to speak up in class discussions on such arcane topics as adverse possession. She would stop me in the hallways when she saw me, asking me how it was going, and saying that she thought I was doing well. Her words of encouragement made a difference at a challenging time in my life. They were just enough to give me hope that maybe I could succeed and the motivation to make the extra effort to make it happen. Those simple acts of kindness and concern have never been forgotten and, in no small measure, helped me to pursue a profession and a career that have given me great joy and satisfaction. Thank you, Professor Glendon, for being the wonderful teacher, ideal mentor, and gracious person that you were to me and to the many, many others who have been privileged to know you!

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