PLATTSBURGH — George Barber’s pride for the day he graduated from college has not diminished in six decades.
Barber, now 85, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his graduation from Champlain College on June 14, 1953, the second of only two classes to complete their bachelor’s studies at the short-lived facility.
He took advantage of the free tuition offered to veterans following World War II.
“At that time, they were giving veterans a chance to go to college, if they didn’t get booted out (once enrolled),” Barber said from the home where he has lived since 1960 and where he and his wife, Elizabeth, raised their six children.
“They’d give a random test once every semester, maybe more, and if you didn’t do well, you were kicked out. Once you knew what was happening (with the importance of the random testing), you paid all the more attention to your studies.”
Champlain College opened on Sept. 23, 1946, as a two-year transfer college on U.S. Oval, the former site of the Plattsburgh Barracks. About 1,800 students were enrolled during the school’s first semester, and 300 students graduated during the first commencement in 1950.
In that same year, the college became one of two liberal-arts colleges to expand to a four-year program under the newly created State University of New York system.
Under the GI Bill and the Associated Colleges of Upper New York, veterans were assured that no student would be excluded because of their race, sex or economic condition.
The overwhelming majority of Champlain College students were veterans, but several men and women from the local community also attended.
For Barber, the opportunity was a dream come true.
“I joined the Army in the last semester of high school (in April 1946),” he said, describing how he had left high school after a verbal disagreement with a gym teacher and decided on the spot to leave school and enlist.