Early Alums Reminisce About York’s Founding Era

Their moment in the graduation spotlight might have been two, three or exactly four decades ago, but members of the Classes of 1971, ’76,’81, ’86 and ’91 recently came back to celebrate with the Class of 2011 and to “reminisce, reunite and reconnect” with classmates and faculty around their unique York experiences.

The Class of ’71 (the very first class) was represented by Joel Hornstein, Hon. Jeremy Weinstein, an administrative judge in the Supreme Court, Queens County, who has helped current students with internship opportunities; and Susan Horowitz, who spoke on behalf of her class.

“One day in ’67 we received a letter saying there was going to be a new college (York, then known as Alpha College) with small class sizes and better opportunity to get to know your professors,” said Horowitz who was then a graduating senior at Brooklyn’s Erasmus High School. “Coming from Erasmus, which had thousands of students, that sounded great. “But we sweated for every ‘A’ we got at York…and every ‘B’ too!”

Horowitz bragged about the qualified professors at York as well.

“We were not taught by graduate assistants,” she said. “We were taught by people with PhDs.”

In the audience were some of those very professors, some of whom were founding faculty and others who joined in the years immediately following the launch. Among them were English professors Samuel Hux and Alan Cooper; and History professor, Robert Parmet – all founding members -- as well as Biology professor Jack Schlein and Chemistry professor, Lawrence Johnson, Mathematics professor Joseph Malkevitch and Spanish professor Gloria Waldman.

Horowitz who says she has had “a public service career” took the audience on a trip back to the turbulent era that shaped the nation, the college and the students, recalling being among those who skipped taking their “Physical Science” finals to attend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorial service, and spoke of how the small college family was rocked again by the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy only weeks later. She evoked memories of York students’ engagement in the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement and the War on Poverty among the generation’s causes du jour.

The first commencement was held at Colden Auditorium at Queens College with 151 graduates. Among them was a young couple who had met in freshman year. They married after graduation; and today Ilona and Steven Brandeis are practicing physicians and the proud parents of three adult daughters. The inaugural commencement speaker was the college’s own acting president, Dr. David Newton, who told the graduates, “You have the obligation to dream dreams and make them come true.”

By contrast, the Class of 2011 was 900-strong and the ceremony was held in a colossal tent on York’s sprawling athletic field with Dr. Aprille Ericsson, a NASA aerospace engineer, as keynote speaker.

The reunion, organized by the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs under the direction of Mondell Sealy, consisted of a march into the tent with class-appropriate banners followed by lunch in the Faculty Dining Room.
“I would not change the experience for anything,” said Horowitz. “Many of the professors had an impact in changing my life.”

Other alumni who spoke included physician, Stanley Caine, on behalf of his Class of ’76; and Ronald St. John, ’81, who today is York College’s director of Athletics, Men’s Basketball Coach and president of CUNY Athletics Conference for the senior colleges. He spoke of York’s Nomads, the sports teams, so named because, without a permanent campus and gym facilities, the athletes during the first 20 years of the College’s existence, practiced in borrowed gyms in local high schools and colleges.

Today York has its own permanent state-of-the-art gymnasium and athletics fields; and the Nomads name has been retired in favor of The Cardinals, complete with an appropriate mascot.

Dr. Jack Schlein, an active semi-retiree, spoke on behalf of faculty, recalling some of the students who passed through the biology and chemistry labs and have gone on to successful careers in medicine, research and college-level teaching.

Among them are luminaries such as Dr. Carl Urban, ’71, director of Infectious Disease Research Laboratory, New York Hospital Queens, Dr. Andrew Campbell, ’81, a professor of Medical Science at Brown University in Rhode Island, who now recruits gifted biology seniors from York to his program at Brown; Dr. Ormond Brathwaite, ’81, a Chemistry professor at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, who recently won a Fulbright Fellowship; and Dr. Robert Champer, ’81, a retinal surgeon in Eugene, Oregon, who recently made the college’s first six-figure alumni gift.

They have all dreamed dreams and made them come true.

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