Our community’s educational centerpiece reaches an important early milestone.
One can extract a lot of joy while looking at this photograph
It shows smiling students in cap and gown at the time of their commencement ceremony escorted by the Chancellor of the institution. This photograph has special meaning to me. It’s from the very first commencement at the University of California at Merced in 2006.
I was in attendance that May morning when the handful of students received their diplomas from the University. The campus had opened the year before, and these students had transferred from other institutions to complete the early steps along their higher education journey.
As the recently installed CEO of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, I accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony. It was clear to me that this would be a very special day.
UC Merced is celebrating its first decade this year. Students started attending in the fall of 2005. A recent exhibit at the Merced County Museum featured three rooms of photographs, newspaper front pages, and icons from the University.
For a relative newcomer to the area, the exhibit offered a peek into the many steps it took to locate the campus in our community.
The shovel pictured above was from the celebration commemorating the start of construction. The ceremonial ground-breaking capped off a multi-year effort to convince the University of California to build a Central Valley campus in Merced.
Locations in Fresno and Madera, among other places, were under consideration. The local effort started with a group made up of local education, business, government, and community people.
There were so many steps that needed to be taken along the way including: acquiring the land, green-lighting the development plans, and convincing political leadership beyond the borders of Merced County that this effort was good for all of California.
The local group never looked back as they kept the enthusiasm going through state budget cycles, supported the UC as it fought challenges in court, and helped bring back into focus the prize of a four-year state university amidoccasional perceptions that the community had lost momentum.
The story of how UC Merced became reality has been well documented by the University and local historians.
I cite a few for your information at the end of this column.
The first decade of UC Merced has been critically important to the Central Valley. Enrollment grows at a pace controlled by the University so as to not put any of the delicate development plans at risk.
The UC Board of Regents recently approved the so-called 2020 Project plan that will monitor growth as the student population rises to the full enrollment target of nearly ten-thousand. The campus continues to add new classroom and dormitory buildings.
The UC appears to be a constant state of construction.
To date, three Chancellors have led the institution: the late Carol Tomlinson Keasey, Steven Kang, and the current Chancellor Dorothy Leland.
Current full-time student enrollment is sixty-six-thousand with faculty and staff numbering now at fifteen-hundred full and part time.
As a community, we came together when a student attacked two students, one staff member, and one construction worker with a knife during classes in November 2015. University Police shot and killed the attacker.
The UC and the community of Merced County were united like a family as a result of the outpouring of compassion on campus.
And that takes us back to that first photograph
Students are the most important aspect of any educational institution. Over the years, we saw how students melded into the City of Merced along with their counterparts from Merced College. UC students wrote messages and campaigned hard to bring the First Lady in as commencement speaker in 2009.
The following year, students again worked diligently to bring NBC News Anchor Lester Holt to UC Merced as commencement speaker.
The first ten years have brought many highs, a tragic incident of campus violence, and a lot of pride to our community.
There’s no crystal ball to help us predict exactly what our UC, or our county, will look like in ten years. We wouldn’t want one anyway. We want to grow along with our college anchor, meet the future face-to-face, and live each day to the fullest.
But it will be fascinating to review these words in another decade when the campus marks another milestone. I hope to be among those telling the story of the community that could, and the University that made us all proud.
The UC history of the Merced campus can be found here: http://www.ucmercedplanning.net/pdfs/flrdp/2history.pdf
Merced County Historian Sarah Lim’s column on the UC Merced development in the community can be found here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article38302386.html
Steve Newvine’s tribute to UC Merced’s first Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, written at the time of her death, can be found here: http://greatvalley.blogspot.com/2009/10/steve-newvine-legacy-that-endures.html
Steve Newvine lives in Merced