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What a difference a few years make

The year was 1973 and Susan Michalczyk was racking up A's in calculus as a sophomore at Boston College. One afternoon in a meeting with her professor, he asked her: ''Why are you taking this class? You're only here to get your 'MRS.' "

Michalczyk, 52, never forgot that comment. Now an associate professor at BC, she shares it with her own students to illustrate how far women have progressed. One measure of that progress is that many had never heard the term, which dismisses women as going to college to find a husband.

Tommorow, Michalczyk will watch as her daughter Rachel graduates as a member of the class of 2006, Boston College's 50th coed class.

At first women were admitted only to the schools of nursing and education. The college wasn't fully coeducational until 1971, when the school of management finally opened its doors to women.

Michalczyk, who lives in Wayland, marvels at how much has changed since she graduated. Today the college offers a minor in women's studies and such courses as Women and Work, Legal and Illegal Violence Against Women, and Introduction to Feminisms. In her days as a student on campus, a woman's virtue was carefully guarded. ''Guys had to sign in at the front desk, and if they were to go upstairs, the door had to be left ajar," she recalled, adding that the boys had to be out by midnight.

Some things, though, haven't changed, such as the lack of women's bathrooms. ''We still can't find them," said Michalczyk, referring to her classroom building. ''I keep saying I want to crash the men's room just to see. There's probably a sauna, Jacuzzi, and eight stalls." (A BC spokesman said there is bathroom parity.)

Raised in Arlington, Michalczyk commuted for the first year and a half before moving on campus. She sang in the University Chorale, which had been all-male until 1964. Michalczyk recalls one of her former students complaining about having to purchase the ''ugly black dress that cost $65" for performances. She didn't have much sympathy. Her response: ''Honey, when I was in the chorale, we had to buy fabric and a pattern and sew it ourselves!"

With a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and a master's in Italian from BC, Michalczyk crossed the river to earn a doctorate in Italian at Harvard University. She stayed on at Harvard, teaching Italian and literature, before returning to BC in 1992. She now teaches in the honors program, which combines literature, philosophy, theology, and social sciences.

''When we read 'Frankenstein,' I push the students to see the connections between the marginalized creature and the way society sees the marginalized today," she said.

Her husband, John, chairs BC's Fine Arts Department and codirects film studies. An Emmy-nominated filmmaker, he has produced nine documentaries for PBS. And, with Susan, they have three children, all of whom are at BC (son John is due to graduate in 2008 and daughter Miriam in 2009).

In one respect Rachel's dorm room recalls the days of her mother: a large blue tie-dyed tapestry hangs across one wall. But look on the desk, and you'll see something students 30 years ago could have hardly imagined: a laptop computer. Unlike her mom, who had to wait in line to register for classes, Rachel can do so with a click of the mouse. With another click, she can download a professor's PowerPoint presentation, even a podcast of a lecture.

Weeks shy of her 22d birthday, the 5-foot tall, curly-haired senior won't be abandoning her family after she receives her BA in psychology. In the fall she will enter BC's graduate school for her master's degree in social work. She already has practical experience, working for three years at Pine Street Inn, the homeless shelter in Boston.

Looking on as Rachel graduates will be the ''Golden Eagles," members of the class of '56, the first coed graduating class.

Among them will be Claire Hoban McCormack, who taught first-graders at St. Joseph's School in Needham for 25 years.

McCormack recalls that in her day the gym wasn't off limits to girls but was monopolized by guys, so she took a bus to Mount Alvernia High School a few miles away for her required physical education courses.

''When we left the campus we would be wearing our gym uniforms, these horrible-looking dresses with bloomers underneath," she said.

McCormack earned a master's degree from Boston University and raised five children with her husband, Leo, a retired history teacher. She now lives in West Roxbury.

Some 20,000 guests are expected at tomorrow's commencement. It will be held at Alumni Stadium, which, the BC spokesman assured us, has an equal number of men's and women's restrooms.

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