Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives
t the end of every spring semester, graduating Queens College students gather on the Quad for the ceremony that signals the end of their undergraduate careers.
Hundreds of students will congregate at the same location where the first graduating class held their commencement on a rainy Monday in June of 1941. Back then, an academic procession led by founders of QC, President Paul Klapper, Dean Margaret Kiely and Judge Charles S. Colden saw 198 students graduate. They were joined by commencement speaker Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
On May 31, the 88th class of graduates will take their places on the QC Quad at 9 a.m. The two-hour ceremony will feature speeches from President James Muyskens and commencement speaker Howie Rose, ‘77. Afterwards, graduates will disperse and go to smaller ceremonies held by department chairs and deans.
QC celebrates its 75thanniversary this year but the college will be holding its 88th commencement ceremony. Up until 1959, the college held commencement twice a year. Students could partake in the February ceremony after the fall semester or in June after the spring semester. Since then, commencements have been held annually; at the end of the spring term for all graduating students from the fall, spring, summer and winter semesters.
Last year, 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students earned a degree, according to an article published in The New York Times. Nine members of the first graduating class – who graduated from QC 70 years before and all of whom were in their 90s – were invited back to be honored at the ceremony.
QC has an undergraduate student population of approximately 16,200 students and an overall student population of 19,000. The current four-year graduation rate stands at 26 percent and the six-year graduation rate at 51 percent, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
The programs handed out to commencement attendees now consist of at least 15 pages and list the names of 40 students per page. The first programs ever handed out at commencement were at most five or six pages long and listed the names of the graduates on a single page.
During the 2007 commencement — 70 years after QC opened its doors — the college recognized seven generations of students. Two alums from each decade were present to represent their classes. In 1951, QC senior Martin Lorin wrote “Blue and Silver,” the college’s first official song and alma mater, according to The People’s College on the Hill. It played at commencements between 1951 and 1954. In 1998, it was brought back and has played at every ceremony since.
This year’s commencement speaker, Rose, a WFAN sports broadcaster, will join the list of past notable speakers including former New York State Senator Robert F. Kennedy, African American civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and NYS Governor Mario Cuomo.
The first honorary degree was presented to Paul Klapper in 1948. An honorary doctorate degree will be presented this year to Sara Miller McCune, founder of Sage Publications and publisher of the social and environmental magazine Miller-McCune, now recognized as the Pacific Standard.
This year’s graduating class will join the ranks of such alumni as Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, and local U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman. Other notables include actors Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano, musicians Carole King and Paul Simon, and NY1 Emmy-winning movie critic Neil Rosen.
This article marks the end of QC: A Historical Series. However, the history of QC continues to develop with each new semester and every student admission, protest and commencement.