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Milestones in our History: Early UNF Graduations 1973-1974

The initial commencements were particularly meaningful for the graduates, their families, and the community. Jacksonville had waited many years for a public institution of higher learning. Florida Senator John E. Mathews, Jr. had long called the Jacksonville area "the most educationally starved community of its size in the nation," and the opening of UNF in 1972 finally provided Northeast Florida residents the opportunity to learn and complete their education within commuting distance. The majority of the students were part-time and attended school at night, and many of these first alumni recall the challenges faced balancing school and work. A significant number of them also recall, with justifiable pride and emotion, their walk across the commencement stage as the first person in their family to have attended and graduated from college.


The following details and photographs capture the highlights of those early memorable ceremonies:

1973 (June 10)

UNF's first graduating class consisted of 35 students, including 28 baccalaureate degree candidates and seven master of education degree students. Since the University opened in 1972 as an upper-level institution, these first graduates started at UNF as seniors or were already working on master's or second degrees.


The College of Arts and Sciences awarded the majority of bachelor's degrees, with a total of 17 candidates. By virtue of alphabetical standing, Robert Stephen Berry was the first student to graduate from the University. Graduate students receiving master's degrees in education included Betty S. Holzendorf (later Florida Senator) and Bernadine J. Bolden (later UNF professor of education and Vice President of Student Affairs).


The afternoon ceremony was held in the Courtyard under a hot sun before an audience of approximately 400 persons. As the diplomas were handed out, charter faculty and staff recall the shouts of "'attagirl, Mom!" UNF President Dr. Thomas G. Carpenter was the commencement speaker. A reception was held in the library lounge.

1973 (August 26)

At a Sunday twilight ceremony held in the Courtyard, 62 graduates listened to commencement speaker J. J. Daniel, chairman of the Florida Board of Regents. Daniel stressed the importance of education in our society and told the several hundred persons in the audience: "A human being, born with innate talent, creativity or intellectual power, who does not develop what God has given him, sins against God, sins against himself, and sins against his fellow man." UNF President Carpenter conferred the degrees and recognized three honors students in the class: Antonio Altieri, Albert Glenn Cherry, and Joy Clingman Hardaker. A reception following the ceremony was held in the library.

1974 (June 12)

The UNF Charter Class consisted of 685 students, who completed all of their upper-division degree work on the new campus. (Most of the students in the two earlier 1973 graduations had transferred from other schools as upper-level students.) Due to the large number of graduates and the lack of a suitable physical facility on campus to accommodate an event of that size, the ceremony was held in the Jacksonville Civic Auditorium.


Allan W. Ostar, Executive Director of The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, was the commencement speaker. Ostar reminded the graduates of their obligation, as alumni and taxpayers, to support their University and public education in general. His remarks were particularly specific to the Class of 1974, "...On this campus there are as many students attending classes at 8 o'clock at night as there are at 9 o'clock in the morning. The average age of the student body is not 19 or 20, it is 29. This graduating class includes not only young adults getting started in life, but a mother with a family of 12. A policeman earning his degree after many years out of school... The University of North Florida has responded to the needs of these older and working students. It has scheduled classes according to the available learning time of students, rather than forcing students to adapt to the University's schedule. The fact that 55 per cent of the students enrolled here are part-time means that the University of North Florida has conquered the clock. The people of Jacksonville have taken a great step forward by providing equal access, and they should be proud of it."


A week of special activities preceded the Charter Class commencement, including a dance at the Riverside Garden Club, and a UNF Open House and Family Day with campus tours, art show, and demonstrations by judo, canoeing, and archery teams. A concert at Riverside Presbyterian Church was held on June 10 in honor of the graduates, conducted by Jack Funkhouser and featuring UNF professors Dr. Gersin Yessin as piano soloist, organist Arthur Bloomer, and tenor Dr. William Brown; baritone Robert Kirkland; and UNF voice majors Cynthia Valentine and Sharon Wright.

1974 (August 23)

The fourth commencement was held in a new outdoor venue - the campus quadrangle at the intersection of Buildings 3 and 4. Degrees were conferred on 83 master's candidates and 205 bachelor's students. State Commissioner of Education Ralph Turlington gave the commencement address to the 288 graduating students. He challenged the graduates to take their degrees and go out into the world to fend off the 1970s attitude of "dig in and survive." Speaking to current events, he said the Watergate crisis forced citizens to demand a higher ethic of their public officials and he also urged the graduates to consider becoming politically involved. He warned them not to become disenchanted with the sluggish movement of the country's institutions. He also said UNF would become one of the leading institutions of the South because of its wide diversity of age, skills and backgrounds among its students.

1974 (December 16)

A unique non-traditional graduation observance, designed to promote informal, family style gatherings of the graduates and their families, was held for the 196 candidates of the fifth graduating class. Instead of one formal ceremony, staggered separate ceremonies were held for each of the three colleges (Education, Arts and Sciences, Business Administration) and were followed by a combined reception in the library. (Staggered, so UNF President Dr. Carpenter could participate in each ceremony.) A total of 167 bachelor's degrees and 29 master's degrees in education and business administration were awarded.

The Archives is the repository for historical resources relating to the University. Our Graduation materials include commencement programs, newspaper clippings, memoranda and announcements, photographs, and caps and gowns. We welcome donations of additional items, particularly photographs, from UNF graduates to enhance our collection. We also encourage graduates to contact us to share UNF memories and reminiscences. Please contact us at (904) 620-1533 or e-mail