Students from the University of South Carolina Upstate’s inaugural class were lauded Thursday during a reunion luncheon for being pioneers who gambled their careers on an unproven nursing program.
Twenty-four of the 36 members of the Class of 1969 gathered in the Campus Health Education Complex for the luncheon. Most are long retired from nursing; a few used canes as they navigated the building that houses the Mary Black School of Nursing. Brunette and blond has been replaced in most cases by silver or white, which created a contrast as the luncheon guests gathered around a large class picture of themselves that was taken when they were young women in starched-white caps and dresses, with their careers still ahead of them.
USC Upstate was founded in 1967 in part to address a nursing shortage that was expected because Spartanburg General had shuttered its nursing program. The original student body numbered 177.
Those first nursing students took advantage of a pilot program at an unproven school, making them true pioneers in their profession, USC Upstate Interim Chancellor Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., told luncheon attendees, including some of the original faculty and several of the graduates’ husbands.
“We share a deep gratitude to you as you took a chance on us,” Fitzpatrick said. “When you came to the university to begin your degree, it was very new, and it was somewhat controversial. You were committing to a two-year academic degree that was to replace a three-year in-hospital program that was very popular at the time. And because of your innovation, because of your sense of dedication, because of your real commitment to trying something new, we are where we are today.”
The University’s chancellor elect, Brendon Kelly, Ph.D., was also on hand for the luncheon, and talked about the novelty of the event.
“This University was founded by all of the people in this room,” Kelly said. “The products of a university are the students that graduate from it, and your stories become the stories of the university, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of what is really a special celebration for any university in the United States. There are very few institutions in the United States that can celebrate a luncheon with the original graduating class.”
Jane Bottsford, chairwoman of the Class of ’69 and a current member of the Spartanburg County Commission for Higher Education, spoke to the group about what it meant to go through the experience together.
“I know that all of us, when we first started in school, had never a clue that in 50 years we would be seeing each other, and that we would all look this great,” Bottsford said to applause and chuckles. “Memories – that’s what this is about. We are memory makers. Each one of you has a place in our hearts, and whenever I think about my nursing career, it has to start always with the university.”
A Spartanburg native and graduate of Byrnes High School, Cathy Quinton said she had wanted to be a nurse, and the fledgling school offered her the opportunity to achieve that dream.
“It’s just fabulous to think that you got in on the beginning of something that has grown to become such a great institution, that offers such a quality education,” Quinton said. “We had a fine education. It was a very close, intimate group, and (the school’s first faculty members) cared about us. And then for us to be here 50 years later and be able to see each other and celebrate everybody’s achievements, their families, their lifestyles – it’s awesome.”
After the luncheon, Dr. Katherine Gibb, dean of the Mary Black School of Nursing, took the Class of ’69 members on a tour of the School of Nursing’s current facilities, including the simulation lab – the largest in the state dedicated to nurses’ training – that features realistic mannequins used to simulate a wide range of conditions the nursing students will encounter after they enter the workforce.
About USC Upstate
USC Upstate offers more than 40 bachelor’s degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences, business administration, nursing, and teacher education, and master’s degrees in education, informatics, and nursing. Among the fastest-growing universities in South Carolina, USC Upstate is a diverse and dynamic community of 6,000 students from across the Upstate, 36 states, and 15 countries. As a leading metropolitan universities in the Southeast, USC Upstate has its main campus in Spartanburg, two locations in Greenville, and a growing number of programs online. The USC Upstate Spartans, which fields 17 varsity sports, compete on the NCAA Division I level as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Nearly 26,000 alumni have earned degrees from USC Upstate and approximately 85 percent choose to remain in the Upstate region to build their lives and careers, making a significant impact of the region’s economy and quality of life. Learn more at www.uscupstate.edu.