Consider the historical context of the first iteration of Columbia-Greene Community College. It opened in Athens less than a month after the dawning of the Woodstock generation. The Vietnam War raged on, a year after the Tet offensive. And, yes, the erstwhile hapless New York Mets were just weeks away from winning the World Series.
Columbia-Greene Community College opened its doors at its first home on Sept. 15, 1969. It was, to many in those days, a social experiment doomed to fail. Naysayers called it a glorified high school, pointing to only 350 full-time and part-time students and 18 teachers as proof. To top it off, it was located in a Gothic-style school complex with little access or parking.
On Tuesday afternoon, Columbia-Greene Community College, that old glorified high school, now in Greenport, seven miles from its starting point, celebrated 50 years of quality education, the arts and technology, not to mention a passel of awards, recently culminating in being named the top community college in the state for achievement in student financing.
In the argot of 1969, you’ve come a long way, baby.
Students, faculty and staff who comprised the first graduating class of Columbia-Greene Community College a half-century ago turned out Tuesday to recall memories and share in the history. And campus life? Here is a brief, comical but telling synopsis of the early days.
“It was in an abandoned elementary school in Athens, and when they opened the doors, a ton of dust came pouring out,” said Professor Emeritus Diane Koenig, who taught English. But when they left the doors open for the building to air out, all the neighborhood dogs rushed inside, Koenig added.
However, it was the economic impact on Athens and what the college did for the community that were stunning.
“Businesses flourished. Grocery stores, bars — they were all busy. What it brought to the community was its spirit. Athens was a blue-collar town, and all of a sudden, we had the opportunity to get an education here,” former student Philip Miller of Athens said.
Through 50 years in Athens and later in Greenport, social norms, programs, students and teachers have changed at Columbia-Greene Community College, but the opportunity to get an education has remained constant.
Congratulations, Columbia-Greene. You’ve come a long way. Here’s to 50 more years.