In June 24, 1966, BMCC held its first commencement exercises. President Murray H. Block conferred associate degrees to more than 160 graduates who walked across the auditorium stage at what was then called the Baruch School of the City College of New York City.
Fast forward to 2018 and BMCC’s 53rd commencement is scheduled for June 1 in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. More than 4,000 graduates are expected to receive their associate degrees—and they will be joined by members of BMCC’s 1966 class, as well as others who graduated from BMCC in the 1960s.
Those early alumni will also attend a 50th Milestone Alumni Reception Luncheon, and take their place on the stage during the afternoon commencement ceremony.
“The first graduating classes from BMCC helped establish the ‘Start here. Go Anywhere.’ spirit of the college that has become ingrained in its identity,” says Yaritza Gonzalez, BMCC Manager of Alumni Relations and Annual Fund. “BMCC is more than just a place where alumni completed their degrees. To many, BMCC was a second home during one of the most formative times of their lives.”
When tuition was free and the subway was 20¢
“We were a pretty diverse class, even in the sixties,” says Frank Navas, a member of BMCC’s first graduating class and a Professor of Accounting who has worked at the college for more than 50 years. “Everyone had things in common, like family income, and coming from one-parent households.”
BMCC opened in 1964 on two floors of an office building on West 51st Street, and expanded to several floors in other buildings, including a location at 68th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and one on Seventh Avenue, "where we had a famous recording studio on the top floor and would run into Peter, Paul and Mary in the elevator,” Navas says. “We worked hard but it was a great time. There was a bar close by that we called ‘North Campus’, and we would meet up there for a beer, after class.”
At that time, BMCC tuition was free, and a one-way subway fare was 20¢. New York City saw its first transit workers’ strike in 1966, and shut down for 12 days. Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States and protests against the War in Vietnam were in full swing. The Black Panther Party was formed, a woman ran the Boston Marathon for the first time and Hair opened on Broadway.
Taking the right advice
Professor Navas came to New York City from Puerto Rico at age 11 with his mother and older sister. Since he didn’t speak English, “They put me back a couple grades in school,” he says, “but I picked up the language pretty fast. It helped that I read comic books, and I still read and collect them.” Also, he says, “my cousins would only talk to me in English.”
Even with relatives in New York, the family’s transition was a challenge. “My sister supported the household,” Navas says. “She busted her chops doing piecework in a factory. She gave up her education to support us. We were on public assistance and the social worker told me I shouldn’t go to college, that I should go to work instead.”
Navas ignored that advice. Eventually, he was moved ahead a grade and graduated from Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “I only had a general diploma,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for my guidance counselor, Mrs. Shulman, I wouldn’t be teaching here today. She got me the application for BMCC. She said, ‘There’s this new community college I just heard about and I think it would be good for you’.”
Navas thrived at BMCC. A member of the basketball team—“Defense was my thing”—and on the Dean’s List, he was awarded the Martin B. Dworkis Memorial Award, presented to an outstanding athlete with the highest academic average.
BMCC had a dress code then, he says. “Men had to wear a suit and tie. Women couldn’t wear pants and they had to wear at least one-inch heels.”
After he transferred to Baruch College, “I don’t remember seeing any women in my accounting classes and there were no women teaching classes,” Navas says, adding that there were also no women or minorities portrayed in the case studies in his accounting textbooks—then times changed.
“At BMCC over the years, I’ve seen more women come on board as professors and students in accounting, and I would say maybe 20 years ago I began to notice women writing accounting textbooks, and the problems in the books began to reflect the diversity in our classrooms. They started to add women to the mix, and also Hispanic business owners and other groups.”
The 50th Milestone Alumni Reception and an invitation to more recent alumni
For Navas, the support he received at BMCC still resonates after 50 years.
“When I finished my bachelor’s degree in accounting at Baruch, there was a professor at BMCC, Lewis Hughes—the best accounting professor I ever had—and he told me a committee of the accounting department wanted to offer me a full-time lecturer position at BMCC, because of his support of me. What I had to do in return, he said, was to continue my education and earn my graduate degree, my MBA.”
Navas kept his end of the bargain. He earned an MBA at Fordham University and has taught at BMCC since Spring 1973.
“The economy has changed in that time, but there is still a great need for accountants,” he says. “If students want to work in accounting they have more opportunities than ever; they can go into forensic, governmental and other areas in the field.”
Navas looks forward to attending the Milestone Luncheon on June 1, the day of BMCC’s 53rd commencement, and comparing notes with classmates he might not have seen for decades.
“I could have gone into accounting and taught other places but I decided teaching at BMCC was the best way to give back,” he says. “I’m very proud of BMCC and I owe a lot to this college.”
An invitation for alumni to stay in touch
According to Gonzalez, who is reaching out to alumni on behalf of the college, “We are very excited about the 50th Milestone Alumni Reception, honoring our graduates from the 1960s. We also want to encourage more recent BMCC alumni, and those who graduated 20, 30 and 40 years ago, to keep in touch with us and participate in our special alumni events."
BMCC provides a growing list of benefits for alumni, including access to the BMCC library, gym and career center.
"To learn more about the alumni relations office, I encourage alumni to visit bmcc.cuny.edu/alumni," she says, "or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”