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Last month, a group of eight graduates came together at the new Belfast campus to celebrate 60 years since graduating from the former Ulster College of Physical Education in 1961.

The group of ladies, many now in their 80s, have remained friends since  day one of their course in 1958 and have celebrated many milestones along the way including weddings, births, arrival of grandchildren, job successes, relocations, retirements, and sadly, the lives of some who are no longer with us. Their friendship has remained strong, decades later.

During their Physical Education course, they studied a wide range of subjects and sports, from PE, physiology, anatomy, English, education and health. They were keen hockey players, starting the very first Pegasus team, as well as gymnasts, swimmers, netballers, tennis players and athletes, with some dancing along the way for good measure. Most of the ladies went on to become teachers.

UCPE 60 year original cohort

Throughout their studies, the ladies formed a close relationship with the then principal, Dr Oonah Pim, who was hailed as “pioneering and ahead of her time” and was awarded an honorary degree from Ulster in 2003. Dr Pimm really took these pupils under her wing, and they became a family during their time at the College.

During last month’s reunion, the UCPE alumnae were taken on a tour of the new Belfast campus from two second year Gaming students , and were brought up to speed  on the developments over the last number of years, as well as the plans for the future. Roisin McNamara, Alumni Relations Manager was on hand to meet the group, as well as Professor Marie Murphy, Dean of Postgraduate Research and Director of the Ulster Doctoral College, Dr Paul Kitchin, Head of School of Sport, Dr John Cathcart, Senior Lecturer for the School of Health Sciences and Dr Nigel Dobson, Head of Sports Services.

The day finished with a lunch in the beautiful Academy Restaurant and an update from the School of Sport, Sport Services and Ulster University Hockey. Each of the UCPE graduates received a certificate to mark the occasion and a memento card with an image of Dalriada house on the Jordanstown campus, where most of their studies took place.

UCPE graduates 60 years wider group reunion

Ann McCarty and Sheelagh Brown, two of the UCPE graduates who organised the reunion event, spoke fondly of the group’s visit to the Belfast campus:

“We had a lovely day at Ulster University’s Belfast campus and were so impressed by the staff and students we met there. It was wonderful to see how the university is using modern, state-of-the-art technology and equipment, yet it has retained some of the university’s history by naming classrooms and
areas of the building after some of our old favourite haunts, like Orpheus, where we regularly frequented for a dance on that very special floor.

“Over the years we have had many events and trips to keep us all connected. As students, we went off in small groups to places such as Cornwall and Llandudno and Pegasus then kept many of us together after we graduated with weekly hockey matches. We’ve had lots of reunions in the years since, both in
each other’s houses and in various hotels across Ireland. We are so lucky to have met friends for life through UCPE and remained so close, and as a result of the qualifications we gained, between us have given 400 years’ service to education since we graduated.”

Roisin McNamara, Alumni Relations Manager at Ulster University said:

“It was a privilege to host this wonderful and inspiring group of graduates, as they marked their 60-year reunion. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane and hearing their stories, as they reminisced about their time at UCPE and on the many life events they have shared and celebrated throughout
the decades since.

A friendship this strong is proof that education is indeed a key tool in breaking down barriers and creating lifelong connections. We are very proud of the fact that one of UU’s first student cohorts remain so close and are delighted that they are still in touch with the university today, continuing
to share their milestone events with us. The University holds a very significant place in their lives, and it was fitting that we were able to share some of our future plans with them and show them the new Belfast campus.”