flashback title with old photos

The First Commencement

By Rob Emproto
Photos provided by Kristen Nyitray, University Archives

June 4, 2021, marks the 60th anniversary of Stony Brook University’s very first commencement. On that date in 1961, John Lee, the first president of the school then known as State University College on Long Island, bestowed Bachelor of Science degrees on 25 students who entered the college in September 1957.

The commencement took place at Planting Fields, a former Gold Coast estate near the university’s original campus in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The keynote address was delivered by Harold Alexander Taylor, noted educator and onetime youngest college president in the country.

“It’s incredible to see how much Stony Brook has grown both in size and stature over these last six decades,” said Rick Gatteau, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “We’re grateful for the commitment of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have helped achieve this special milestone.”

Those 25 graduates were the first of more than 200,000 students who would earn degrees in the next 60 years. But only two more classes graduated in Oyster Bay. In 1962, a new campus opened near the historic village of Stony Brook on land donated by local philanthropist Ward Melville. That year, 782 students enrolled — a number that increased tenfold by the end of the decade.

The rest, as they say, is history.

black and white photo of commencement
black and white photo of graduating class 1961
original college poster announcing opening