When Barbara Holley Johnson was admitted to USF, there was no Marshall Student Center (MSC) or lush landscape to greet her, just lots of sand.
“You go to your car and sand would blow everywhere (when you drive off),” she said. “I didn’t come here to enjoy the beauty. I came here for my education.”
On Monday, the Division of Student Affairs invited Johnson, the first student admitted to the University, to attend the Campus Celebration of 50 Years of Students. The celebration, which was held at the MSC Plaza, commemorated USF’s 50th anniversary.
Johnson said she first applied to USF in 1960 at the age of 22. Even though she had three children, she said her mother “strongly suggested” she do so.
“The University of Tampa was too expensive to consider,” she said. “I had children and didn’t want to leave the family area. While I attended the very first day (of classes), I left home three children. One was 2, one was 4 and one was 6. I did feel somewhat guilty about that, but I felt it would benefit them also.”
Johnson said a statement she heard during her freshman orientation encouraged her to work hard during her first semester.
“One of the memories I had is sitting in the chemistry building and someone saying to us, ‘Look at the person on your left and the person on your right. One of you is not graduating,'” she said.
Johnson was one of those students who did graduate. She earned a degree in education in December 1963, about three years after USF opened on Sept. 26, 1960.
“I worked so hard because I didn’t want to fail,” she said. “I pulled a 3.75 (GPA) in the first semester, but I made a C in bowling. I was very determined to do well. It would look bad if I was student 00001 and dropped out.”
Provost Ralph Wilcox, who spoke at the event, said that when USF first opened, there were five buildings on campus: the Administration building, Chemistry building, University Station, the Life Sciences building and the Student Services building, which was used as a library at the time.
“(There were) 125 faculty members and more than 2,000 freshmen … here to open what was to become the fourth public university in the state of Florida,” he said during his speech.
For 30 years, Johnson taught at various elementary schools in Hillsborough County and retired in 2005. Within that time, she married her husband, Jimmy Johnson, in 1970.
Jimmy Johnson said he is proud of his wife and her dedication to education.
“What you saw today is the real Barbara. She is generous,” he said. “With all her children and all her family, her emphasis is on education.”
Barbara said the University has changed a lot since she graduated, but she is grateful for her experiences.
“On the last day of school, I was the last one to leave the building. I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “I am very thankful for the University of South Florida.”