A small flash on the edge of my brain — Neil Armstrong’s first footprint on the moon, grainy black and white movies of spacemen floating on the lunar surface, that soothing-yet-authoritative voice of Walter Cronkite announcing, “The Eagle has landed” — where was I on that historic day in 1969? I kept thinking of those grainy TV films, and then, suddenly, I remembered — because that was the first day I ever laid eyes on Trinity! I remember, first, huddling with my brothers in a motel room watching a black and white TV — I think we were at the old (now gone) Twin Bridges Marriott. Dad loved to take us on road trips, and this particular trip was to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments and also to let me visit a high school classmate, Jean, who was in a special student journalism program at Catholic University (coincidentally run by the late great Regis Boyle, whom I would later get to know as a formidable member of the Trinity Class of 1933).
On that day, now 40 years ago, after visiting my friend at Catholic University, I remember that Dad drove by Trinity College and pointed it out — “the greatest Catholic women’s college in America.” I looked at the buildings we passed with moderate curiosity; they were very similar to the buildings where Jean and I were attending high school at Merion Mercy Academy outside of Philadelphia (another convergence — turns out that my recognition of the architecture was no coincidence, since Edwin Durang designed Trinity’s Main Hall as well as Merion’s historic convent.) I had vaguely heard of Trinity and had a passing thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d be allowed to go to college away from home; but I never really thought it would be possible.
We drove past the monuments and did all the touristy things, and then spent the evening glued to Uncle Walter and the news of the moon landing. Washington was a magnetic place for me in those days (still is!) — the political world was on fire with the Vietnam War, the still-fresh aftermath of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the election of Richard Nixon, the civil rights and women’s rights movements, the student protests rolling across college campuses.
Of course, Dad wasn’t thinking about student protests or anti-war demonstrations as he showed us the grand monuments and reminisced about time he spent here during World War II. He wanted us to see the strength of America, and so watching the moon walk was as important as visiting the Washington Monument. We kids had grown up with the space program — we stayed up late in the backyard looking for the satellite Telstar in the late 1950’s, and we were glued to the TV for each new launch into outer space. We dreamed of becoming astronauts (my brothers were quick to point out that this was not a dream I should have, but I paid them no need…!) We didn’t realize it then, but the whole space program was part of our national defense strategy in the Cold War era; the Russians beat America into space with Sputnik, so the space race was on. And, throughout that decade of wonder in the skies and chaos on the streets, the voice of Walter Cronkite truly was there to tell us what we needed to know about each day’s marvelous and troubling revelations.
Little did I know on that day in Washington, so long ago, that the most life-changing moment for me would be neither the moon landing nor the romps across marble esplanades of monuments, but the ever-so-brief glimpse of a great granite building with a red roof and dome. Even thought I thought it a hopeless dream when I was a high school junior, a year later a marvelous benefactor whom I never met made my full tuition scholarship possible (about $2500 in those days). And so it turned out that I did, indeed, leave home and come to Trinity. In those days, that was as momentous a step for me as if I had walked on the moon.
As The Most Trusted Man in America would have said, “And that’s the way it was…”