The University of Waikato opened in 1964 after many years of energetic lobbying by a group of Hamilton locals, determined to have a university in their city. To begin with, facilities and students were sparse. Today, we have multiple campuses, thousands of students and over 90,000 graduates.

Read below the stories of some of our first graduates and click here to see some of our first photos from the archives.

Bruce Judd at first graduation
Bruce Judd receiving his degree at the first graduation ceremony in 1967.

Foundation student establishes family legacy

Bruce Judd always had a love of education and learning; he wanted to further his education after high school but his parents couldn’t afford to send him away. He settled into life, had a family and moved to Hamilton in the 1960s to work on a farm; he didn’t think he would get the opportunity to attend university.

However, that all changed in 1964 when a new university - the University of Waikato - opened and he decided to check it out. He wanted to fulfil his dream and see if it was suitable for his family to eventually enrol. Turns out, it was, and Bruce would soon become part of the first crop of graduates - just 20 of them - in 1967.

Remembering the old days: Mrs Kemp's milkshakes and The Cowshed

Dorothy Gaunt nee Clark in her graduation regalia in 1967.
Dorothy Gaunt nee Clark in her graduation regalia in 1967.

Dorothy Gaunt, née Clark, remembers the long driveway leading up to a single building on the top of the hill, at the University of Waikato in 1964 when she enrolled as one of the first students.

The building was A Block and it housed the library, lecturers’ offices and a lecture theatre. It was built on what was previously Ruakura’s No. 5 Dairy Farm; the campus still had a farming vibe with cows grazing in the paddocks and a disused cow shed. On the other side of Knighton Road was McMeekab’s Orchard.

In its first year, the University was home to approximately 150 students who enrolled in the only degree on offer, a Bachelor of Arts. The group was small by today’s standards, but Dorothy says, “we had a strong feeling of ownership and camaraderie.”

“There were very few lecturers, but most of them were on first name terms and vice versa – except for Dr John Miller from the History Department who addressed us all as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mr’.”

Early graduate impacts community for life

Jim Pope (circled), at the first graduation ceremony in 1967.

Former school principal and educationist Jim Pope was one of the first nineteen graduates of the University of Waikato in 1967. His grandson James Pope shared insights into his late grandfather’s educational journey and how it impacted future generations.

“Pa was very proud to be in the first group of graduates from Waikato. We still have his original degree certificate. He was a mature student and was almost 40 years old when he graduated.”

Jim, who already had a diploma of teaching and was working at Silverdale Normal School, enrolled in a degree part-time at Auckland University in the 1960s. When the University of Waikato opened just a few minutes’ walk from his workplace, the opportunity to study locally was appealing and he transferred to Waikato.

University of Waikato marks significant milestone with capping of 90,000th graduate

Early graduates: Annette Jennings, Alan Hall, Alison McMillan, Tim Oliver, Heather Dawson, Dorothy Gaunt, Steve Saunders, Anne Hunt, Jean Priest

The past week has been one of celebration for the University of Waikato as it gears up to cap the 90,000th graduate - a significant milestone in the University’s 58-year history.

The study experiences of those in the first graduating class of 20 and those of the 90,000th graduate, Cole McOnie, couldn’t have been more different.

The early graduates all received a Bachelor of Arts – because it was once the only degree offered by the University at the time. In 1967 the graduates celebrated at an intimate ceremony at Founders Theatre in Hamilton, followed by a formal ball

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