By Ashley Oliver
York College kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration with a homecoming weekend that featured an alumni art show, a block party and a dinner dance with several other commemorative events planned throughout the year.
The college, which opened in 1966 at the Oakland Jewish Center in Bayside, started with a class of 371 students and 50 full-time staff. It would take an additional 20 years, several moves and a persistent lobbying effort by a coalition of community leaders until classes began on the current campus in 1986 with 4,276 students and 173 full-time faculty members.
The homecoming weekend started with an executive leadership breakfast on Sept. 16 for faculty and alumni featuring a discussion by Robert Parmet, a history professor at York, which focused on the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s and its impact on the college.
The speakers also included Archie Springer, a former councilman for Queens County and F. Carlisle Towery, the former CEO of The Greater Jamaica Development.
The block party, which was held the following day, opened the campus to the local community and focused on celebrating the school’s success despite the challenges it has faced.
York’s Interim Assistant Dean of Student Development, Randolph Punter, said he was excited to see the neighborhood evolve, too.
“A block party is a nice way to meet people in the community,” said Punter. “With our alumni here with their friends and family, and the younger generation here with their friends and family, you can see how much progress we’ve made as a college and Jamaica. The entire community made a lot of progress.”
The block party was free and open to alumni, students, and Jamaica residents. Members of York’s Student Government Association and the SEEK program served food, while an orchestra accompanied by festive dancers performed.
Recent graduate Shavon Richards said the festival made him appreciate the diversity in York.
“Before I graduated, I saw a lot of people of different races, but at the block party, I understand how much York transformed racially,” said Richards. “It was obvious who the first class of the school was not only because of their age, but because of their race. There weren’t a lot of blacks. There weren’t a lot of non-whites period. You wouldn’t think that if you come to the school now.”
Student Government President Rachelle Antoine said she hopes this anniversary allows students to get more involved in the school and community.
“We are celebrating the school, but most importantly the students,” said Antoine. “These events are to give our students an opportunity to see how far they’ve come to make university what it is today. From nearly 400 students to over 3,000 successful students and future graduates.”
The administration plans to have a gala to celebrate the alumni in May at Guastavino’s in Manhattan.