The past week has been one of celebration for the University of Waikato as it gears up to cap the 90,000th graduate - a significant milestone in the University’s 58-year history.
The study experiences of those in the first graduating class of 20 and those of the 90,000th graduate, Cole McOnie, couldn’t have been more different.
The early graduates all received a Bachelor of Arts – because it was once the only degree offered by the University at the time. In 1967 the graduates celebrated at an intimate ceremony at Founders Theatre in Hamilton, followed by a formal ball.
It’s 2022, and Cole’s graduating class is closer to 600; he will walk across the stage at Claudelands Globox Arena in Hamilton to receive a Bachelor of Health, Sport, and Human Performance – just one degree out of more than 20 undergraduate degrees that the University offers.
The first students who started at the University of Waikato in 1964 shooed cows away from their lecture room; Cole sat as one of more than a hundred in purpose-built lecture theatres.
Where the early students’ lectures took place in a lone building perched atop paddocks of farmland, Cole’s classes were held in several rooms across a campus dotted with multi-story buildings, lecture theatres and labs. He even spent six months studying online from the Netherlands.
First and most recent graduating class celebrate on campus
An event was recently held on-campus to celebrate the 90,000th graduate milestone, while also honouring the University’s first graduating class. Nine of the early graduates were on campus for morning tea and to meet Cole and his family. The earliest living graduate, Dorothy Gaunt (nee Clark) who is the University’s third graduate marked the occasion on behalf of the pioneering cohort.
During their time at Waikato, the early graduates established the first Waikato Student Union, travelled around the region recruiting future students, campaigned for student accommodation and started the student magazine.
Pro Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning, Tracy Bowell, welcomed the early graduates and said that reaching 90,000 graduates is a celebration of the people who make the University what it is today – a globally-ranked institution boasting world-class teaching and research.
“Many will know the University of Waikato has a unique history, and was hard-fought to establish itself in 1964,” she says.
“Now, as we mark 90,000 graduates, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the tremendous effort and talent of these last 90,000 graduates, their achievements out in the world, and also the exceptional efforts of our staff and teachers who have been instrumental in each of those graduates’ learning journeys.
“My congratulations to Cole, the graduating class of 2022, and to each and every graduate who has come before – we are proud of you.”
Cole also shared a few words on the significance of being the 90,000th graduate and student journey.
“It’s surreal to think I’m part of a group of so many people, who are similar but have their own unique journey through university. I haven’t done anything different to the 89,999 people who have come before me – everyone has their own story, different background and different future. It’s special to be a part of this group.”
Cole was recipient of the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship, which provided him with financial support, mentoring and leadership training over the course of his studies at Waikato. He attended Hamilton Boys’ High School, and is also an elite BMX rider currently training for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Three generations of graduates
While early graduate Bruce Judd passed away in 1980, several members of his family returned to Hamilton to attend the celebration, many of whom are Waikato graduates themselves. Bruce completed a Bachelor and Master of Arts and became a dedicated and much-loved high school teacher, and would serve as inspiration to many in his family.
Daughter Paula Ardern says it was a great day for the whole family when their dad graduated. “I remember when he walked down the aisle, we were so proud of him.”
Granddaughter Lian Warwick says she and her three siblings all wore their grandfather’s beloved regalia at their Waikato graduation ceremonies. “Knowing he was in the first graduating class and understanding how important education was to him meant it was a very proud moment to wear the gown he had once worn,” she says.