UW Commencement and Sterling Hall Bombing

An Alum

Didn’t the UW cancel commencement after the Sterling Hall bombing?

Abe

This legend is persistent, though it’s untrue — the UW’s decision to postpone commencement this week does not have a 50-year echo. The Sterling Hall bombing occurred during the turbulent summer of 1970, but it happened on August 24, long after that year’s commencement. In spring 1970, commencement was endangered, however, because of the demonstrations that followed the shooting of four students at Kent State University on May 4. Several individual faculty decided to end their classes as clashes between UW students, police, and the National Guard turned violent in the following days (see photo below). But though administrators discussed closing, the university remained open. It told individual schools and colleges to come up with plans for how to grade students during the upheaval — Letters & Science, for example, offered students three options: to finish a course as usual, to leave and take an incomplete, or to leave and accept a pass/fail grade. The university continued on through commencement, where David Zucker ’70 (one of the creators of the movie Airplane!) spoke as senior class president — on June 8, as scheduled.