Cheyney Class of 1964 Makes $50,000 Pledge on 50th Anniversary of College Graduation

May 11, 2014

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The Cheyney Class of 1964 pose for a group picture with Gregory Benjamin ('81), Director of Alumni Relations (far left), before leading the procession on the 50th anniversary of their graduation from the nation's first institution of higher learning

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They wore beanies on their heads 50 years ago when they walked the Historic Quadrangle at what was then Cheyney State College.  On May 10, when they led the procession for the graduating Class of 2014 back at their alma mater, the women proudly wore white, while the men dressed in black. The only exception--retired Professor, Dr. S. Jean Wilson ('64), who wore light blue. A long blue and white banner announced to family and friends that the Class of 1964 had come 'back home' to mark the 50th anniversary of their Cheyney graduation.

"The value of a Cheyney degree can't be measured," remarked Carole Ross, a retired teacher who worked for 35 years working for two different Philadelphia High Schools, after earning a BA in English from Cheyney.  "I owe everything to Cheyney. A lot of schools would not accept us even though we had the grades and we didn't have the money to go anywhere else," she recalled. "Cheyney opened many doors. It allowed me to have a profession in which I never worked. I loved it. It was the best 35 years of my life."

William "Mickey" Shumake, a retired educator who worked as a teacher, Vice Principal and Principal in middle schools and high schools, agreed.  "I got a fraternity (Omega Psi Phi), a degree, a wife and lifelong friends," he explained, when asked about his Cheyney experience. Even though he's lived in South Carolina for the past 14 years, he and his wife, Marion, continue to come back to campus a few times each year.  In fact, she is spearheading the $50,000 campaign.  Come October, when the 50th anniversary class comes back for Homecoming, they plan to present a check for $50,000 to Cheyney University to be used for scholarships for students.

"We feel that if we don't give back--who will? We need to give these young people scholarships and support them and help them get to where we've gotten," she insisted. "These young children need to be educated. These monies help them to finish. We're investing in the future of these children and then, hopefully, they will invest in the young people who come behind them. I love the school. I want to be a part of it. I want to see young people succeed. They are our future and that's why I give."

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania President Dr. Michelle R. Howard-Vital spent time with the 50th anniversary class just before commencement began. She dropped by the 50th Anniversary Class Breakfast Reception and met and spoke with each class member.

"I so appreciate each and every one of you," she told them.  "Cheyney is built on people and your accomplishments. Thank you for the scholarship money that you bring to us."

The 1964 graduates had a wonderful time reminiscing, re-connecting and sharing laughs.  Many say that they've remained close friends after all of these years.  In 1984, a group of 1964 graduates organized their first reunion (20th) and they've been getting together every five years ever since.  

Following this year's graduation, Dr. Vital hosted a 50th Anniversary VIP Luncheon in Carnegie Hall, where Cheyney University National Alumni Association (CUNAA) members, nearly 50 Class of '64 alumni, and guests gathered to fellowship. Wendell R. Whitlock ('64) was Master of Ceremonies and Guest Speaker William Nichols ('64) had a great time taking the audience down memory lane.

Besides wearing beanies back in the 1960's, they said, freshmen weren't allowed to walk on the grass in the quad, pinochle was the card game of choice, and Cheyney's industrial arts, special education, and administrative training programs were number one on the east coast.

"They really enjoyed themselves," said Director of Alumni Relations, Gregory Benjamin, smiling.  "It did my heart well to listen to them reminisce about Cheyney and what it was like here in the '60's and to hear about all that Cheyney had done for them.  They realize that students today need scholarships more than ever. Hopefully, other alums will realize that students need scholarships and donate to the Alumni Scholarship Fund so that we can continue to help deserving students get a quality education."

The Shumakes, who actually got married a couple of days before they walked across the stage to collect their diplomas 50 years ago on the quad, challenged those in the room and the classmates who couldn't make it, to contribute to the $50,000 campaign. 

"Statistics show the more you love your college or university, the more you'll give back," Marion stated. She and her husband expect the Class of 1964 to dig deep.