Jane Fonda and I share a LIFE moment!

I was a freshman at Whittier College in 1971 when Jane Fonda came for a “little” visit. Well, this caused a stir. For one thing, Jane Fonda was about “causing stirs” and what better place to make a statement than Richard Nixon’s alma mater (1934). I remember it well! I didn’t know; however, that LIFE magazine had sent a reporter. It came as a complete surprise when a friend called to tell me he’d seen my picture–and that he thought I looked pale.

Allow me to provide a little landscape to what I was thinking leading up to college.

If you’re close to my age or older you will remember that beginning in the mid-60’s the war was brought to us via on-the-spot Saigon news bureaus and the colloquialism, “living room war,” entered the American lexicon. For several years the nightly news televised coverage of the war, including combat footage. Following the Tet Offensive and the beginning of American troop withdrawals in 1969, television coverage began to change, reporting a greater emphasis on the human costs. It’s widely remembered that Walter Cronkite closed a news report on the Tet Offensive by expressing the view that the war was unwinnable. As the “most trusted man in America” openly expressed a lack of confidence in leadership, a larger segment of the American public shifted support to the anti-war movement.

While  college campuses across the country erupted in protests in opposition of the war, students at my high school loosely organized sit-ins, walk-outs and protracted silences (I seem to remember book drops, too!) protesting the quality of cafeteria food and bargaining for the loosening of dress code restrictions. But those silly actions stopped almost over night. May 4, 1970, one month before I graduated from high school, news of the Kent State shootings quickly spread across campus and settled on edgy and impressionable college-bound teenagers. Students who entered high school certain the war couldn’t possibly continue into their young adulthood were a summer away from college and the young men were beginning to seriously consider the impact of their draft lottery numbers. These were the things my friends and I were talking about.

There were many messages coming at me during my first year of college. Whittier was a relatively quiet and conservative campus, but free speech areas were common meeting grounds for debate and anti-war voices regularly clashed with those in support of the President and reinforcing Cold War ideology. And then Jane Fonda came to campus.

At the end of 1970 she spoke out against the war at a rally organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and volunteered to raise funds on their behalf. She then started a tour of college campuses to share her perspectives, as well as raise money. This was more than a year before she visited Hanoi and reached the height of her controversy.

I really don’t recall what impressions I held before I walked into that room, but I do remember being curious. I wasn’t bored or just looking for something interesting to do, I really wanted to see for myself and to hear what she had to say. I recall that the official position from top college administration was that we were NOT to go and that we would not be given valid excuses for missing any classes. I also remember professors saying the exact opposite.

I look intent. I do wish I could recall all I was thinking.

I have thought so many times about my initial impressions.  I thought she was pretty. To my barely nineteen-year-old self she seemed sophisticated and I probably wouldn’t have used the word then, but now, I’d say she had “presence.” I also clearly remember thinking she was speaking reasonably, and that somehow I’d been given the impression she’d sound more militant. She had a point of view, and she expressed it passionately. I do remember thinking she seemed rather ordinary, speaking as a private citizen, not a public figure or actress.

I also remember enjoying a conversation rather than listening to a speech. She had opinions, but didn’t deliver them with as much persuasion as I might have expected. The exact content I have long forgotten, but I clearly remember being so glad I was hearing her for myself, not having someone else interpret for me. Beyond these few recollections, I’m hazy. I would actually love to get back inside that 19-year old head and take a look around. Was there much in there? I really don’t know.

I have a strong interest in this volatile era, and I’ve read numerous books, faithfully followed television and movie documentaries, and attempted to soak up a mammoth amount of history in an attempt to better understand and reconcile my weak memory with properly documented information.  I could never read or study enough; however, to say that I have a very good grasp of more than the basics. It was a complex and very contradictory period in American history.

My brief 1971 encounter with Ms. Fonda was a long, long time ago. But whenever I look at the picture and see a mini-skirted teen-aged me, I think about how I didn’t know it then, but I was just emerging as a person who values and appreciates political history, but also needs a variety of opinions and the opportunity to consider multiple perspectives before forming strong opinions of my own. I have always asked questions when I don’t understand, and If I can investigate and add to my knowledge of a subject by listening to what others have to say, I feel enriched.

I didn’t seek out Jane Fonda because I love controversy. I simply wanted to understand.  I  am energized when listening to people who may think differently than I do and I don’t always need resolution or consensus. I value the sharing of ideas, and it isn’t always possible to resolve differences in opinion, but it is important to me that differences in opinion be respected. It’s not unusual for me to change my mind on a matter after considering new information–I’m often more comfortable with that than others around me. I think there’s a richness in developing a flexible mind and I hope to never lose that. My core values and beliefs don’t change, but surrounding information may shift with new information!

Nineteen-year-old Debra was seeing and hearing for herself,  standing in the back row, not too close—just taking it all in and figuring out what resonated and what did not. Sometimes critical thinking is simply listening to hear without discarding information that may not fit a previously held belief.  I don’t ever want to lose curiosity or to stop asking questions, and moving into a new decade and realizing that I’m getting older only opens up a whole new freedom to discard any need  to be the expert, and instead delivers fresh experiences, new ways of thinking along with valuing others’ viewpoints and perspectives. With that in mind I can’t imagine ever being bored.


48 thoughts on “Jane Fonda and I share a LIFE moment!

  1. What a remarkable post, one that I’m sure to reflect upon in the days ahead. I remember virtually all of the events you’ve described, although not Ms. Fonda’s visit to Whittier. It was in incredible time in history, filled with so many larger-than-life people — Jane Fonda, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Ho Chi Minh, Mao, the list could go on and on. And to think, you listened to Jane Fonda speak, sitting within feet of her, and yet you didn’t “go communist” nor did you try to overthrow the Gov’t. Imagine that!

    Speaking of imagining, I cannot imagine you ever being bored — nor boring, for that matter — Debra. That simply is not your way.

    1. John, you made me smile! You completely “got it.” I really wasn’t sure I had successfully communicated what was at core meaningful to me–at least going forward! I have a spotty history with sharing my “open-mindedness” and upsetting the balance in some friendship circles–so I tend to edit myself quite a bit! I think maybe that contributes to why I have a fascination with others who dedicate themselves to getting “out there” and are wiling to be targets! Thank you so much for wading through such a long post! Debra

        1. Thank you, Terri. I really appreciate your comment. I write late at night and there are times I read again in the morning and wonder if I’ve even made sense! This particular post was a hard one for me–there was just too much information and I really didn’t know exactly how much to include. My memories began to flood back and I could have written more…aren’t we all glad I didn’t do that! 🙂 I will now be very aware in my own observation of rabbit trails! What a great visual, and I know precisely what you mean! 🙂 Debra

          1. I hope you didn’t think I meant you had rabbit trails…good grief it was only me believe me…you were very concise. Sometimes if I write a longer post than usually I feel sort of worried about it, but then sometimes it is just good to write for oneself. A replenishing of sorts I guess. Was that a trail I just spouted ….could have been! 🙂

            1. No, Terri, I completely understood what you were saying, but in turn, I just relate to the challenge 🙂 Fortunately, I never mind following rabbit trails…metaphorically or otherwise? 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kristy! I got caught up in a lot of memories about things I’ve not considered for a long time! Like every generation, there are just some things that are shared experiences, even though there may be really differences in the interpretations of the events. I still like to read about the ’60’s and early ’70s just to see where my own interpretations may have shifted. I’m glad you enjoyed a very long post…Debra

  2. Outstanding post and personal reflection. I too am of that era … a year behind you. I’m from Ohio, so Kent was different. As I was deciding where to go, my mother would insist I wasn’t being to nearby Ohio U because it’s campus unrest was known to the locals. I ended up in the opposite corner, and recall the stand feeling I had when visiting the Kent campus for a football game.

    1968 sticks with me from that era – arguably, one of the most crazy years in US history. Thanks for sharing Debra!

    1. Oh my goodness, Frank. Yes, being a high school student in Ohio at that time…that would be a birds-eye view on unrest. I’m sure your mother was very in tune with where you’d go to school. I wonder if you’ve ever read (or had interest in) James Michener’s book on Kent State? I read it years ago and think I may read it again. That book started me on my personal “research project” and although I’m sure it isn’t the best or definitive, Michener was such a compelling writer it reads like a novel. On the other hand, sometimes it’s not that great to linger over such a tragic event. Thank you for hanging in there with a long post. I typically like to make them much shorter, and easier reads 🙂 Debra

  3. Diane Beglin

    What a wonderful and insightful post. Being the same age, it brings back memories of that time in history. Good and bad. Sit-ins! They were a part of our college life. I love your thoughts on getting back into our college year brains. Having a flexible mind is one of the keys to aging gracefully in my opinion. It makes the world a more accepting and interesting place! Great post to stir up all of those feelings from the 70’s.

    1. I’m so glad you shared, Diane! I already know YOU get it! If you recall, I first met you when Virginia opened up our Whole Foods “discussion group!” 🙂 When I think back to the time in my life when all of this was coming together for me, I have poignant moments that are easily accessible, and other moments when I really can’t recall how events fit together. I think I’m going to challenge myself to get into another review lesson. And I don’t know about you, but although I’d like to access a few moments in my teen-aged brain, I’m frightfully concerned that I would find there wasn’t much there! What a let down that would be! 🙂 Thanks for participating in the disucssion! Debra

    1. That would have been quite a speech for a junior high student! I think you’re right about taking it in…my problem comes up when I think other people (make that friends) are going to think something is as interesting as I do! I am familiar with the “glazed-over eyes” staring back at me! I think that is the appeal of writing…no one is forced to read? LOL! Debra

  4. Wow, man that guy in the front row had some HAIR! didn’t he? And what a very well written thoughtful piece. America has such a volatile history and it seems to me that you were allowed to be more outspoken in those days.. How wonderful to have the image as a kicker for the memories and yes i would love you to go back into your 19 year old head and look around and take notes and photos then pop back and tell us all about it! I mean it must have even smelled different then, the food would have been different, the speech patterns, even some of the words, the subject matter. These things change so fast, from decade to decade. Oh no there goes my time machine again. Great piece! c

    1. I’m reading a book right now, Celi, examining this particular historical record from the viewpoint of other nations. If that isn’t a kicker (I like your choice of words)-I’m just fascinated and wish I had a discussion group to go with this read! I think there is good evidence that we all would like to at least “visit” our younger selves. One of my favorite movies is “Peggy Sue Got Married.” And maybe a good “Back to the Future” moment would end up keeping us grounded in today. It’s just fun to think about! The hair is a hoot, isn’t it? And talk abuot changes…this was even before we had diet Coke! 🙂 Debra

  5. This is a stellar lesson in civility, Debra, and a memorable piece about a remarkable time in our country’s history.

    I was a junior in college in ’71, and college campuses had already changed dramatically from when I first started college. By then, I had already experienced riots in my high school and, of course, all of the violence of the sixties. I never lost the desire to try to understand, however, and like you, I think it is important to see all sides of an issue.

    Our country made it through that very rough era. I have faith that we will make it through the one we are currently in as well. You really should consider sending this in to a local paper or magazine. It is very well done. I’m sure it took you a bit of time to put it together with all the dust such writing stirs up. Well done!

    1. Thank you for reading through this long post, Penny. I have felt a little melancholy since posting it last night, and I’m not a typically melancholy person. I think it did stir up a lot of thoughts and some of the memories are harder than others. But you are so right to mention American resiliency and to feel confident that we’ll make it through this difficult time. I think sometimes we really do forget how utterly devastating and violent the ’60s were and that the divisions at the time were far worse than the rhetoric and posturing of today. I think we are more hurtful with words and accusations, and the “slime” gets thrown pretty far with today’s technology, but each age seems to have its crisis, and we’ll get by. I really did “escape” the campus violence, and for that, I’m very glad. It was frightening enough to watch it on television! I need to get outdoors today and take a little walk in nature, don’t I? 🙂 Debra

  6. Wonderful post! I was a couple (not many) years ahead of you and I remember that time well. I never regret having lived through that tumultous time. It was exhilerating and intellectually stimulating and you really felt like you could change the world. I haven’t felt like that in years.

  7. Such an interesting and thought-provoking post, Debra, which fleshes out events I only heard about about in outline here in the UK. I was so busy having my two children (the second in 1971) that much of what was happening elsewhere just seemed so far away at the time. For you they were up close and very real and obviously made an indelible impression on you. Thank you for deepening my understanding

    1. Without Internet and other forms of global communication it was a very different time–much more difficult to stay abreast of what was happening in other parts of the world. For Americans who were living during that war, emotions still run high, with much controversy. I’m glad I could at least share a little bit of my own very youthful perspective on the times. Some books I’ve been reading recently have had me living in the past…that and that “significant” birthday! 🙂 Debra

  8. In 1971 I was 20. Some people hated Jane Fonda and still do. She may have been duped or used, but I always felt she was sincere. It was a time when we truly believed that we could change the world. A time when the established world seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Kind of like now. And these days the young people are just beginning to feel the power of the internet and are changing the world again! Makes me so happy to see it again!! 🙂

    1. You’re so right about the internet connecting young people today to change, Rita. It’s an interesting time to see how global technology connects all of us with what is happening worldwide–and often with immediacy. I have read Jane Fonda’s recent autobiographies and she speaks very openly of her anti-war involvement and her own perspective of those times. I think I can understand how Veterans have great difficulty with forgiving her. My own little memories are pretty basic, and I’m sure I still have a very limited perspective. It was a fun “look back” for me, though, and I enjoyed sharing. It might have been even more fun for me if I had been able to say that my picture was in the magazine because I was a “teenage model,” or something with a little personal flair! Ha! Debra

  9. Debra, first off, I love the new theme! It matches so well with your flower avatar.

    Jane Fonda was such a lightning rod, wasn’t she? I grew up being taught she was a bad person, though I have grown to admire her as an actress and public speaker. She wasn’t much older than you were then. I’m sure she was as nervous as you were excited, speaking to that big group that day. An actress is given her lines. A person has to invent them, to test them for herself.

    1. Thanks for complimenting the new theme, Andra. I’m getting used to it and think I like it, too. It was just such a shock to me to somehow delete my old one and not even know what I did! I have had a good day of “looking back” and thinking about how we all change and grow and leave parts of ourselves behind. I’ve read Jane Fonda’s autobiographies and she is a woman who has reinvented herself over and over as her own perspectives have changed and she has shifted and grown. I find her a very interesting woman. And tonight while googling something related to my topic, I came across at least a dozen sites selling the photo (even a poster!) of the LIFE picture. I just have to get one…a big old giant one. I think it’s going to be a symbolic gesture for my big birthday! I’m so amused by that! D

  10. First off, you are super popular! You always have tons of comments on your page. 🙂 This is a great story! I think you are VERY interesting!! You write so well, I felt like I was there with you. Great GREAT story!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the slice of life story, Corri. Some of the things that are important to me seem to connect easily with other readers. I do enjoy reading their blogs, too. It’s a wonderful community to connect to, and the more you read the more you make friends 🙂 Debra

  11. Hi Debra,
    What a lovely memory especially as it comes with that marvelous photo of yourself age 19.
    I’m really glad you wrote this. We’re going through a similar time with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… If we had a Walter Cronkite and a Jane Fonda would our troops all be home now?

    1. I really agree with you, Rosie. The more I remembered the stories of the sixties, the more I wondered why people are more complacent about war today. Just thinking…no answers, but lots of questions! Debra

  12. Dear Debra,
    Your last two paragraphs truly sum up the approach I have to life. In reading them, I felt that my mind and yours met and felt at one with one another. And I have to tell you that your conclusion–at least as I’ve lived my life–is absolute accurate: when one keeps a flexible mind, life never gets boring!

    I hope to see more postings like this from you. Your have a deeply inquisitive mind and a thirst for justice. I honor that.


    1. Thank you for being so thoughtful in your response and for acknowledging the life-applications I was trying to share. It was because I had been reading your posts about your time with the anti-war movement and your own truth-seeking/social justice activities that I began to think about that time in my own life. Despite so many differences in circumstances, isn’t it wonderful to be able to share perspectives which encourage us just to continue to stay in tune and do “better” wherever we can. Blessings to you, Debra

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I enjoyed looking back, too, and found myself all week doing a little mental inventory! Not sure how good that is at birthday time, but it was probably necessary! 🙂 Debra

  13. Enjoyed seeing you . . . and all the clothing of an era in the sea around you. Your last paragraph is terrific ~ listen, think, consider, weigh, evaluate.

    1. Yes, Nancy, the clothing and the hair! Ha! Dead give-away, isn’t it? Thank you for responding to the point of my “looking back”–I would have known you’d connect to the same! Almost daily there is something (or someone!) challenging me to draw from these tools rather than to simply react! I have to consciously work at that! Debra

  14. Debra, I read this post last week and have been meaning to comment! Your approach was so insightful. I recently watched a “Oprah Master Class” with Jane Fonda and learned about how passionate she was in her anti-war efforts during a very volatile time in the country. Listening to her made me acutely aware of how important it is to step out of our fears and voice our beliefs. Looking back at your beautiful picture, do you ever think what advice you would give that 19 year old about life? I loved how you summed up your last paragraph with, “Sometimes critical thinking is simply listening to hear without discarding information that may not fit a previously held belief”. Nicely said and so true. Though it’s important to voice our beliefs, learning only occurs when we leave a little space for growth to occur, don’t you think? You write beautifully. Thanks for the wonderful post! -Deepali

    1. Thank you so much, Deepali! I’m delighted that what I shared was meaningful. I would really have enjoyed seeing Oprah’s Master Class with Jane. I did read her autobiographies, two of them, and find her a very interesting person. If I could go back and speak to my nineteen year old self I’d encourage “her” to listen to her intuitions and follow them! I had such strong feelings, impressions and beliefs at that age, but I often didn’t trust myself. It’s taken a long time to get to that point in my own maturity. I work with college students, and it always seems to me that the young nineteen-year-olds today have so much more self-confidence than I did! Thank you for your very kind encouragement to me! Debra

  15. Well, I’m not at all from that era.

    I do, however, believe that this was a brave post, and well written too. I would think it could’ve been easily misunderstood (due to content, not lack of clarity), yet your readers have seemed to follow along very well.
    Hmm. If only we could all be so fortunate. 🙂

    Glad to meet you ladies. I’m happy that Frank so kindly introduced us.

    1. It’s very nice to meet you, too! I will take a little trip over to your site and learn a bit more about you, too. I am grateful that the content of my post wasn’t seemingly misunderstood. Our blog is primarily dedicated to topics concerned with general well-being, and I stay clear of politics. I wasn’t really trying to put forward a political perspective in my memories of forty years ago (YIKES!), but I am grateful that my reading friends were not reading too much between the lines. I simply wanted to share a snippet of my college life. I understand that Ms. Fonda can still be very polarizing. I take by your comment that you have from time to time fallen into some snares of criticism! Believe me, I’ve been there, too! I’ll be curious to learn more about where that comment may have come from 🙂 Debra

  16. Fascinating Debra, I very personal impression of the times and a moment. Beautfully and thoughfully put together. And your inquistiveness in life is definitely still there, the curious in us that keep spushing us to learn more, understand a bit more. Thank you.

    1. I enjoyed sharing just a very small moment in my college life, Claire, but it had significance then to me, and writing about it brought it all back to me! I believe that every experience in life offers opportunities to learn about ourselves and others. Thank you for sharing with me! It means a lot! Debra

  17. Thank you for writing such an informative recollection of a messed up time in our nation’s history. Your post is full of wisdom and insight and interprets how we can be open and bend to others ideas and expectations and yet be able to stand our ground, if need be. It’s a lesson we all should learn and teach. I came from that era, too. I was a shy freshman in college. I guess that’s why I like going back in time, to learn anew. Great post. Timely and thought provoking. Would love to reblog it on my site for my readers, if you don’t mind?

    1. I’m so glad we could share this time in history, and then have the opportunity to look back and wonder what have we learned! There were so many things all going on at the same time, both culturally and historically…and we were so young! LOL! Don’t you wonder what it would be like to be “this age” and observe the same moments. Life unfolds and we have so many lessons to learn all across the lifespan…I guess we don’t need to go back. We’re still learning! I’d be very pleased for you to share the post in any way that is meaningful to you! Thank you for asking…I always feel like blogging connects us all in so many wonderful ways. I hope you have a wonderful week! Debra

  18. Reblogged this on Changeversations and commented:
    This wonderful blogger gives a personal recollection of an experience she had back in a troubling time of our nation’s history. A very thought provoking post and one I think challenges the rest of us to evaluate what and/or who influences us, and why.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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