Celebrating Community Colleges and Commencement
Is there any more exhilarating time of year than Commencement? I think not. The collective excitement in the air from the students participating in the graduation ceremony and their cheering friends and family is infectious, and I just can’t help but feel deeply proud of every student I get to greet as they cross the stage to accept their hard-earned degrees.
The 2016 CCAC Commencement exercises, held on May 19 at the Petersen Events Center in Oakland, were particularly notable in light of the fact that it is our institution’s 50th anniversary this year. It is gratifying and humbling to look back at our history, and the history of community colleges in general, and to see how far we have come in continuing our mission of making education accessible and affordable for all students who wish to learn and grow.
The first community college was founded in Illinois in 1901. Prior to World War II, “junior colleges,” as they were then called, focused primarily on liberal arts education, although the Great Depression marked the development of workforce programs to train displaced workers.
Demand for accessible education increased in the post-war years as G.I. Bill benefits provided new educational opportunities for returning veterans, and in 1947, the creation of the Higher Education for American Democracy report laid the groundwork for a national community college network. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the community college boom really took hold; between 1961 and 1970 alone, a record 497 community colleges were established nationwide.
Here in Pennsylvania, we owe the creation of the state’s community college system to Rep. K. Leroy Irvis, for whom the science center at Allegheny Campus is named. On November 10, 1965, Allegheny County’s proposal for a community college was unanimously approved by the Pennsylvania Board of Education, and with assistance from Rep. Tom Foerster (another name you’ll recognize from the student services building at Allegheny Campus), two brick and mortar locations were established and preparations were made to welcome students in the fall.
The Community College of Allegheny County officially opened its doors on September 26, 1966 to 931 students at Allegheny Campus and 574 students at the East Campus, which is now called Boyce. One year later in 1967, CCAC South Campus was established at South High School (it would move to its current location in West Mifflin in 1973) and one year after that, the very first CCAC graduating class received their degrees on June 13, 1968 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.
Since that first graduation ceremony 48 years ago, CCAC has grown by leaps and bounds to provide convenient and accessible locations for students all across Allegheny County and even beyond. CCAC North Campus was established in 1972 to serve students living in the North Hills; Homewood-Brushton Center opened in its current location in 1981, Washington County Center in 2001 and Braddock Hills Center in 2003. CCAC West Hills Center, our newest location, opened its doors (and auto bays) in 2007.
And in that time, many thousands of CCAC students from all of our campuses and centers, past and present, have marked the completion of their degree by donning their caps and gowns, processing across the dais to receive their degrees, and ceremonially flipping their tassels to the left with their classmates. More than 500 CCAC students took part in this year’s historic Commencement exercises.
As we look towards the future, it is with knowledge of our roots, our history and our mission that we remain dedicated to helping more students to complete their educational journey at CCAC, receive their degree under the eyes of their loved ones, and go forth into the world armed with the knowledge and skills to succeed.
Congratulations, CCAC Class of 2016!