50@50: FIU welcomes its ‘First-Class First Class’ in 1981

To celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, FIU News is sharing 50 moments in FIU’s history as part of our “50@50″ series. The photos below were taken at FIU’s First Freshman Festival, celebrating the arrival of the university’s first ever freshman class. Photos appear courtesy of the FIU Special Collections & University Archives.  

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17 

Prior to 1981, there weren’t many options for graduating high school seniors in South Florida like Maria Johnson, who wanted to stay close to home for college.

But that year, FIU provided Johnson – and thousands of students who came after her – with one more option to consider.

“I was excited when this opportunity first came about because I wanted to finish school where I started as a freshman,” Johnson said.

Since opening its doors in 1972, FIU had been an upper-division school that enrolled only juniors, seniors and graduate students with a dream to one day become a four-year institution.

That dream became reality on Aug. 26, 1981 when the university’s first freshmen – which would come to be known as FIU’s “First-Class First Class” – arrived on campus for their first classes.

A ceremony was held that day on the front steps of Primera Casa to honor the 199 freshmen who made up the First-Class First Class. Hundreds of people, from students and faculty to media executives and elected officials, gathered to celebrate this important milestone for the university.

Johnson, one of the members of the First-Class First Class, now looks back with pride about being a part of such a monumental occasion in the university’s history.

“It was very cool to be a part of history at the university and I think the university leaders instilled in us how important this was,” Johnson said. “At the time, we had a sense that this was a momentous occasion.”

And as an English major, she couldn’t help but enjoy the word play of the First-Class First Class moniker. But the name was also an accurate depiction of a group of students that came to FIU with a proven record of academic excellence and achievement.

The average GPA of this first group of freshmen was 3.4, with 24 maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. They brought to FIU a wide variety of talents and abilities – from swimmers and newspaper editors to musicians and computer programmers.

In an interview leading up to the event, President Gregory B. Wolfe said the inclusion of freshman classes would “enrich the intellectual life” of the university, which had increased enrollment to almost 12,000 students by the Fall 1981 semester.

Johnson went on to become a double alumna, graduating from FIU in 1985 with a bachelor’s in English and returning to receive a master’s in English education in 1993. She is currently a member of the faculty at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, located just outside Atlanta, Ga.

Recently, she returned to Miami to visit family members and drove by the Modesto A. Maidique Campus to see how things have changed since her days as a student.

“I was blown away at the immensity of the campus and seeing all these things that were just dreams back in those days – a law school, a medical school, a football team,” Johnson said. “I’m just so proud to be associated with the institution today.”

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