50th Reunion Honors UNO Class of 1962

On May 19, one day after Spring 2012 Commencement, 28 members of the Class of 1962 gathered together with friends and loved ones to celebrate their achievements, reflect on their time as students and look ahead to the future of the University they helped to establish. It has been 50 years since the University of New Orleans’ first graduating class congregated in an open-sided tent on a campus that hadn’t yet had time to grow grass. Half a century later, these honored guests were happy to reconnect with old acquaintances and hear of new ways to remain involved at UNO. The reunion reception, which took place at the patio of the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism courtyard on the Lakefront campus, provided these distinguished graduates with the perfect opportunity to see how they – and their alma mater – have changed and grown.

Gaylyn Danner, a New Orleans resident and member of the class of 1962 instrumental in organizing the reunion, remembers the campus in those first years: “Classes were held in former Naval barracks. Planes still occasionally landed on what was the parking lot and there was no air-conditioning. Males outnumbered females about two to one, girls could not wear slacks on campus and the student center was [located in a] small hangar," she recalled in anticipation of the event. The simple fact that Danner arrived at the celebration in a pantsuit shows how much has evolved on the UNO campus – and beyond.

Mitchell Poche Jr. parlayed his bachelor’s in business into a Ph.D and a position as an international executive. “The professors prepared us for an outside world which we had little or no awareness of,” he recalls. “After that, in my academic and professional careers, it was a piece of cake. [UNO] was really a great place to graduate from then, and it's even better now.” Joseph S. Clark completed all of the requirements for a biology degree before realizing he had simultaneously earned an English degree with all the electives he had taken “for fun.” He has since fostered his love of literature through a long career with New Orleans’ libraries. “Just take all the fun courses and it's fate,” says Clark. “That's what you're supposed to be doing.”

That fate, coupled with new access to higher education, opened up a world of opportunities not only Poche and Clark, but to the whole of that first graduating class. According to Danner, “To a person, we were the first members of our family to earn a college degree and we like to believe that we set the precedent for the future of the University." Made possible by $15 tuition and a $10 activity fee that first semester, a UNO education set these students up for success. The class collectively includes a guidance counselor from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), a vice president of finance, an associate professor of business studies, a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, a kindergarten teacher in St. Tammany Parish, a middle school principal and artist, a research professor at the University of Guadalajara, the owner of an economic consulting firm and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry.

In addition to the reunion reception, the class of 1962 was recognized at the previous evening’s commencement exercises in the air-conditioned Lakefront Arena, a departure from the tent the graduates remember as the only place the university was able to hold a racially integrated ceremony. UNO President Dr. Peter Fos read their names aloud in front of an audience including many members of the 1,100-strong Class of 2012. Danner remembers only one tenth that many graduated in 1962 despite an enrollment of nearly 1500, demonstrating how far the University has come.

Click Here to see pictures of the 50th reunion reception.

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