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Curtain call for a unique class

Curtain call for a unique class

Principal Daniel Woolf says Sc'48½, the only “½” class in the history of the University, is also unique in another exemplary and admirable way.
Sc'48 1/2 fall 2011 reunionPrincipal Woolf (middle row, standing third from right) with members of Science’48½, nine of the 12 recipients of the Sc’48½ Mature Student Bursary who attended “the final reunion,” and some of their spouses and family members. (Kristen Ritchie photo)

My wife Julie and I recently attended the annual reunion of Science’48½. Yes, the “½” is correct. The Class was a ­special cohort of engineers, most of them WWII veterans, who came to Queen’s in the fall of 1945, attended classes year-round to graduate in November 1948 with their four-year degrees in three years.

Among various classes that have supported the University over the years, these men (yes, all of them were men) and their families stand out. They do so partly because of their spirited annual reunions (though this year’s, with increasing age and health challenges, and diminishing numbers, was billed as the “final” reunion). They also stand out for their philanthropy – philanthropy that includes the generosity of their wives and children, all of whom were so positively impacted by the Queen’s experience.

This class has built a fund of more than $1.5 million for a four-year bursary – now worth a total of $76,000 – that is awarded, one-a-year, to an engineering student who has been out of the educational system at least three years. This is currently the largest class fund at Queen’s.

To date, 12 students have received the award, and all are honorary members of Science’48½. The other honorary members of the class are University Registrar (Interim) Teresa Alm and Review Editor Ken Cuthbertson, Artsci’74, Law’83.

Dean Kimberly Woodhouse and Vice-Principal (Advancement) (and former faculty dean) Tom Harris, Sc’75, also joined us at the reunion. The event was a moving one, not only due to the stories that the three ’48½ class members in attendance told of their days at Queen’s (and a tough, tough program – only about half of the class that started actually finished the degree), but also due to the stories told by the beneficiaries of their generosity, the past and current student recipients, male and female.

Virtually none of these students would have had the wherewithal to attend university on their own. Quite simply, just as the vision of a former Dean of Applied Science in the 1940s transformed the lives of the ’48½ class members, so they, in turn, have changed the lives of the mature students whom their award has supported.

We owe it to our predecessors and to our own successors to leave the institution better than we found it, something alumni can best do by supporting Queen’s.

One student spent several years working in a mine before coming back to ­university; another is a former member of the armed services and a mother who ­returned to school. These are just two ­examples of the incredible initiative reflected in the lives of these scholarship recipients. A nice note: unsurprisingly, some of the past award winners attended the reunion with spouses they’d met at Queen’s.

The event epitomized for me a core part of the Queen’s identity: we are a trans-generational entity. Queen’s has been here for 170 years, and it has seen nearly that many graduating classes. It has grown, vastly expanded its disciplinary range, and become a major research-intensive university. It has changed dramatically in countless ways (and as I have suggested elsewhere, must continue to do so, as the world changes around us). But the Tricolour thread that connects the Queen’s of today with the Queen’s of Science’48½, the time of Principal Robert Wallace, LLD’30, is the same thread that runs all the way back via Grant and Gordon to that first entering class under the Rev. Thomas Liddell. And that spirited thread stretches ahead of us to classes that have yet to enter, and indeed future cadres of faculty and staff who will inherit this great institution when all of us are gone.

When I was a third-year history ­student here in the ’70s, the late Prof. Stewart Webster, BA’43, MA’44, assigned me a seminar paper on the 18th century Anglo-Irish politician and philosopher, Edmund Burke. Burke defined “the social contract” as an agreement not just among those of us currently living, but among the dead, the living, and those yet to be born. Just as members of our generation are the current stewards, not owners, of the world’s resources and environment, so the cadre of current Queen’s students, faculty, and staff, Senators, University Councilors, and Trustees are the temporary custodians of an educational trust bequeathed to us. We owe it to our predecessors and to our own successors to leave the institution better than we found it, something alumni can best do by supporting Queen’s.

Science’48½ and many other past classes have put Burke’s maxim into practice. Just as previous generations of Queen’s students have given back to their alma mater, we need to “pay that forward” to the students of the future by helping advance the University in its mission of teaching and research.

You can read the Principal’s blog at www. queensu.ca/principal/apps/blog or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ queensprincipal.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2011-4 cover]