Golden Slugs use lessons learned to change the world

Alumni reminisce about how their experiences at UC Santa Cruz, in and out of the classroom, had an enduring influence on their lives and others'

UCSC students protest the Vietnam War in the 70s.
UCSC student speaks with Page Smith, the founding provost of Cowell College.
UCSC students advocate for peace in light of the Vietnam War.

Among the magical moments of Alumni Reunion Weekend 2023 were the conversations among classmates who recounted stories of their days on the UC Santa Cruz campus. A virtual Golden Slug Alumni event, moderated by Sam Magill (Crown College ’71), included graduates from the early 1970s who reminisced, reconnected, and shared how they used their Slug experience to make a difference in the world.

Despite decades of life lived since their college days, these legendary Slugs pulled memories that included precise details—names of professors, friends, courses, books, and world events—that changed their lives.     

There was a shared appreciation for hallmarks of the UCSC experience that have transcended generations, including the professors who were not only thought partners but who also joined them for lunch or hosted them for dinner; the majestic beauty of the redwoods; the freedom of expression and openness to learning that, even today, surprise and delight current students.

 These alums were in college, and of draft age, during the Vietnam War. Their time at UC Santa Cruz was not only shaped by their academic experiences but also by the out-of-the-classroom activities centered on the political unrest in the world. 

There was a lively discussion around memories of sit-ins and protests, including a protest of then-California Governor Ronald Reagan’s visit to campus. Some shared their first experience with activism, and others shared stories of their first (and only) arrest!   

“87,” “116,” “6,” “257,” the men on the call shouted out; their draft number forever etched in their memories.

 “The day after the lottery, you could tell what their number was just by looking at them,” said Jack Liebster (Cowell ’73). 

While the men shared their accounts of applying to be conscientious objectors, the women shared their experiences—participating in marches, writing protest letters to the draft board, or shutting down campus central services with a sit-in when the Board of Regents was on campus.

 “I remember going to my first march,” said Ziggy Rendler-Bregman (Porter ’75). “It was a coming-of-age experience, an awakening. I remember when my dad, who served in WWII, picked me up. I told him about the march on the car ride home, and he came unglued!”

 Those experiences formed political views, influenced career choices, shaped lives, and motivated action to make the world a better place.

Rendler-Bregman used her UCSC-acquired political action and conflict management skills to help restore arts education in Santa Cruz schools and to launch the local land trust. 

Valerie Fett-Harry (Kresge ’76) used her activism skills to advocate for women in various ways, including establishing quality onsite childcare centers within the federal government.

“The activities we participated in at UC Santa Cruz changed us, and we carried them throughout our lives,” Fett-Harry said.

Alan Deyoung (Stevenson ’69) earned three Fulbright awards for his work in three different former Soviet republics in Central Asia from 1995 to 2017. Joseph Palacios (Merrill ’73), who taught sociology and Latin American studies at Georgetown, served on President Obama’s Board of Visitors of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Inspired by their UCSC professors, many chose to pursue careers in education. Franklin CampbellJones (Merrill ’73) spent his career in higher education in work centered on equity and inclusion.

“I have been around the world,” says CampbellJones. “Santa Cruz never left me. The creative interdisciplinary approach to the world, learning to be a partner in thinking, and bridging ideas, people, and cultures—these were gifts I got from UC Santa Cruz.”

In his career as an astrophysicist, Terry Teays, Ph.D., (Merrill ’73) said his approach to teaching was influenced by his UCSC professors, who “gave you the opportunity to sink your teeth into real things.”

A lifetime has passed for these legends, yet their pride for their alma mater is omnipresent. Sporting their UCSC merchandise during the call, many shared stories of how their Slug shirts and hats have stimulated conversations with people around the world. Fett-Harry, who worked in Micronesia with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supporting disaster relief, said she met six people on the island with ties to UCSC.

 While their years at UCSC account for just a sliver of their lifetime, it is evident that their experiences had an enduring influence on their lives and their ability to make a difference in the world.