To celebrate 50 years of Mason alumni, the Mason Spirit staff arranged for a member of that very first class to meet with a member of the current graduating class, take a tour of the campus, and share their experiences.
Mason English major Lindsay Bernhards met Mason alumnus Jeff Cawley, BA Business and Public Administration ’68, in front of the Finley Building, which is one of the university’s four original buildings.
[Entering Finley Building]
JC [indicating the lobby]: Right here for the longest time, there used to be a layout of the proposed buildings. It was a schematic of what the buildings would look like and where they would be.
LB: The dream campus.
JC: The funny thing was that over the years, when I would come back to campus for a variety of things, the proposed buildings had become the actual buildings. I mean, it was the best plan you’d ever seen. [indicating the original quad] Because we had an Honor Code we could take our exams and walk outside, sit in the Quad, and take them. There was also a coat and tie requirement.
JC: See, we didn’t have a George Mason handbook. There was a UVA handbook called George Mason College of the University of Virginia—and that’s what my [class] ring says. So the requirements in the UVA handbook said coat and ties.
LB: They actually had a full dress code.
JC: Yeah, I don’t remember if that still existed by the time I was a senior, but it existed when I was a freshman.
LB: Now we have a different sort of dress code. On Fridays you’re supposed to wear the George Mason colors. And you can wear them with jeans—it’s totally casual. So what made you decide to stay at Mason rather than go to UVA?
JC: I lived in the area so it was less expensive.
LB: Did you know people that went to this school?
JC: Well, we all started the same year. Some of them had gone to the building at Bailey’s Crossroads, which is what we called the old Arlington County elementary school. In fact, that’s where you had to go to apply. I remember thinking there was not a lot of room to do anything over in that facility. Some friends of mine like Ted McCord had gone there, but I never did. I applied there, but I only took classes on the Fairfax Campus.
LB: Did you live on campus or off?
JC: There weren’t any dorms, but there were a lot of places in the city where people would share housing.
LB: Did you have a car or did you bike here?
JC: I drove.
LB: What kind of car did you have?
JC: Let’s see, what did I have…? I think it was a Ford Falcon.
LB: That’s an awesome car.
JC: It was not one of my better cars.
LB: How long was your commute to campus?
JC: Just a few minutes.
LB: How was parking?
JC: It was a breeze, although we didn’t think so because of the hill [he points to a spot near Merten Hall] and so that’s where we parked. Or along the road right out front. In fact, if you had to park at the top of the hill, you’d think, “Wow, what a walk,” as I’m sure the students today would. But there was no parking fee or anything.
LB: There were no parking fees? Wow, that’s a dream.
JC: And there weren’t sidewalks, just paths. They waited a while to see where students actually walked, then they put in the sidewalks.
LB: They still do that some. It more or less works. But people still walk on the grass. So, are the road names still all the same?
JC: No. University Drive stopped here at the four buildings. It did not go out to [Route] 123.
LB: Oh, interesting. So did you have Main Street or anything like that?
JC: Sure. There were some shops on Main Street, but not that many. There weren’t a lot of us. [Mason] only had about 500 students when we first started.
LB: And the cafeteria was in the South Building?
JC: Yeah, that was called The Ordinary. As I recall it was called that because that’s what UVA called it. The first year I was here, everybody played bridge. I didn’t play bridge, but it seemed like everyone else did. I remember once I was taking an economics course at 8 a.m. twice a week, and the coffee machine wasn’t working. So, independently, almost everyone in the class decided we couldn’t do an economics class at eight in the morning without coffee. So we didn’t go, but then we realized that [nearly the whole] class was sitting in The Ordinary, and the professor, Dan Skelly, he just came down, walked to where most of us were sitting, and started lecturing. And those who weren’t in econ were looking around like “What’s going on?”
LB: That’s awesome. What did this branch campus of UVA mean to you? Did you feel at home here?
JC: Well, this was the only branch at the time. The mayor of the then Town of Fairfax had secured a bond issue for $150,000 to buy 150 acres in Northern Virginia and try to entice the University of Virginia to establish their branch college on the southern border of the city. Later on, other localities in the area came up with money for the other 450 acres for a total of almost 600 acres. When I graduated, there were only these four buildings—North, South, East, and West—a library, and the Lecture Hall that had just opened.
LB: These buildings have all been renovated fairly recently and the library has had a big makeover. So what do you think now when you see Founders Hall and all of the residence halls?
JC: Oh, it’s stunning. I mean, there were like 52 people when I graduated. My daughter graduated 25 years later and I think 5,000 people graduated with her. It increased by a hundredfold.
LB: Your daughter is an alum?
JC: Yes. Oh, I have a bunch of relatives who went here. A younger brother, two younger sisters, and at least four nieces and nephews that did their undergraduate, graduate, or both here. But I was the first.
LB: What did you end up majoring in?
JC: Business and public administration.
LB: From what I was able to find, there were basically four degrees then. You could do English, biology, business, or history.
LB: Did you have any stereotypes about Mason? Like any jokes about it?
JC: No, I don’t think so. It was brand new so it was constantly changing. And that’s continued to this day.
LB: Yeah, we always joke about the constant construction because there’s always something going on.
JC: I grew up in Fairfax. It was rural then. I’d say there were probably more cows than people, so it’s changed dramatically. It grew after the Second World War.
LB: The Mason statue wasn’t here then, but it’s like an icon on campus now.
JC: Oh, I know. I was here when it was dedicated.
LB: That’s awesome. They have this superstition now where if you step on the plaque, you won’t graduate in four years. And you actually have to rub George’s toe for good luck.
JC: I was on the [George Mason University Foundation] board when they built the Johnson Center. I took some tours while it was still under construction.
LB: When was it that you were on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees?
JC: From 1972 to 1996. After college, I worked for the National Bank of Fairfax, which was the building at Route 123 on Main Street, across from the courthouse. I was there for two years and then worked in the [City of Fairfax] for 30.
LB: What did you do for the City of Fairfax?
JC: First I was the assistant treasurer and then I became the controller, and later became director of finance. My responsibilities kept changing.
LB: What were some of your favorite experiences here at Mason?
JC: Oh, one of them is silly. It has nothing to do with academics. There was a stream that used to run through the campus, I think it’s somewhere over near the Center for the Arts. That was all trees, and they had a tug-of-war on George Mason Day with probably 50 people on each side, male and female, with the creek in the middle. It was not recommended that you wear your Sunday best. That went on for at least a few years.
LB: Did you guys ever lose?
JC: Oh, sure. We ended up in the creek.
LB: What was the culture back then?
JC: Well, this school was probably more diverse than the public universities at large in Virginia because it was co-ed, and most of them were not. They started in the late 1960s to become co-ed.
LB: Do you think the morale here is a little different than it was when you were first here?
JC: I think it’s probably the same. I think people seem to be particularly happy.
LB: Yeah, they are for the most part.
JC: I think schools change, but they get better, more people, more diversity. I know one of my nephews who came here. He’d gone to high school in India, the American school in New Delhi, and he was on Mason’s campus 10 minutes his first day and he runs into a classmate from New Delhi.
LB: Oh, nice.
JC: A lot has changed since I first came here 53 years ago. This is a special place.