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In 1964, when the university was elevated from a branch of UNR to a fullfledged university, the campus hosted its first commencement ceremony. (Previous graduates had to travel to Reno for the honor of participating in commencement.) Education majors dominated that initial group of 29 graduates, which included Ray Rawson, who would go on to become a prominent dentist and state legislator. We picked four of his fellow graduates at random to see what they are doing now.
Degree: BS Business Administration Lives in: Monarch Beach, Calif.
Career: Cobain earned his MBA at Northwestern University, spearheaded nationwide marketing efforts for truck giant International Harvester, and headed up customer development for Beatrice Foods. Since 1979 he has run his own mergers and acquisitions firm, Fomento Ltd., in Irvine.
Today: "I help people convert their hard work and their dreams into a big payday," Cobain says, by finding buyers for the businesses he represents. His big client of the moment is the largest lighting company in all of Latin America.
UNLV Memories: As president of the first graduating class, Cobain had the honor of receiving the university's first degree. He's now challenging fellow alumni and others with connections to UNLV from 1957 to 1974 to support Division of Student Life programs. He will match their donations to the Early Pioneers Scholarship Endowment Fund and the Early Pioneers Student Union Fund up to $200,000 during this 50th anniversary year.
Notable: A pilot for 30 years, Cobain has flown a Russian MiG- 29 fighter jet. He studied Russian and aerobatics for months before his three-week trek to the former Soviet Union. "Getting an up close and personal look at the Russian people turned out to be the most positive aspect of the trip. They're just like everybody else."
Quotable: "I thought I was going to be a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company. As it turned out, I didn't care for the big corporate environment. All the wasted time drove me away. I spent my career in small, boutique environments where you have a direct relationship between what you're doing and the results you achieve."
Degrees: His, '64 BS Elementary Instruction and Curricular Studies, '69 M.Ed; Hers, '64 BS Business Administration
Lives In: Henderson
Marriage: The Watsons met in college but didn't start dating until after graduation. They've been married nearly 42 years and have four children and eight grandchildren.
Careers: Rick taught in the Clark County School District for six years, then worked at district headquarters for eight more. In 1978, he became principal of his first elementary school, then went on to lead four more schools. He retired in 2000. Joanne worked in insurance after their children were in school.
Today: Rick is archiving school district memorabilia and has helped an author who is writing a history of Clark County schools. Joanne is now as devoted to her grandchildren as she was to her children.
UNLV Memories: Rick credits UNLV with guiding his hands-on approach to education. "I learned the importance of making the school experience inviting for children and appropriate for what they are able to do — not developing a curriculum that shoots at midline of all students, but one that helps each individual at their own skill level. That's a good part of the educational philosophy I learned there; I didn't come by it naturally."
Notable: He also recalls studying with Holbert Hendrix and James Dickinson, both of whom had campus buildings named after them. Watson now is similarly honored. Fredric W. Watson Elementary School opened in North Las Vegas in 2001. He said it was an honor for his entire family. "From the time we start school until we leave our life, I think that's what drives us: to make our families proud and to be remembered."
Quotable: His advice for new principals? "When you're down in the mouth and you need to have your self-confidence restored, go down to the kindergarten. They're just crazy about their teachers and their principal, and it will improve your mood in about two seconds."
Degree: BA Political Science
Lives In: Port Angeles, Wash.
Career: Darling taught in Clark County schools for 20 years, then spent 11 more as head of the district's social studies program. She later moved to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. "My intention was to retire up here, but it didn't quite take."
Today: She's in her sixth year as executive director of her local American Red Cross chapter. "When I taught, I felt responsible for my kids. I worried about their futures every day. Now I worry about the future of the country, how we can prepare for disaster and minimize the impact."
UNLV Memories: As a member of the university's delegation to the regional Model U.N. conference, Darling says the group was the first to use the name "UNLV" because no one understood "Southern Regional Division of the University of Nevada." Darling also remembers meeting with her advisor, John S. Wright — namesake of Wright Hall — under a tree because their department didn't have office space. And she was the first class secretary. "We all got to be big fish in a small pond. We were all chairman of this and president of that."
Notable: Darling won a $25,000 national educator award from the Milken Family Foundation in 1991.
Quotable: "I have a lovely job. You just can't go wrong when you get up in the morning you know you're going to help someone."
Degrees: BA History, '73 M.Ed.
Lives In: Flagstaff, Ariz.
Career: Zink taught for 10 years in Las Vegas and Ohio, then went into guidance and counseling for the Clark County School District. "It turned out to be something I loved," she said. She retired in 2002 from Western High School and moved to Flagstaff with her husband, John.
Today: The Zinks have a 1957 Chevy — painted Air Force blue in honor of her husband, a retired colonel — and they're active in the Route 66 Car Club. "But I'd really rather have a hot rod, like Nash Bridges had on TV."
UNLV Memories: Zink, a Las Vegas native, tried going away to the University of Southern California. "I hit L.A. and it scared the crud out of me." She came home and found her place at budding Nevada Southern University. "It was absolutely wonderful. It was so small. Everybody knew everybody."
Notable: Zink was a woman of firsts on campus. She was one of the first cheerleaders, when Nevada Southern had only a basketball team, and she was president of the first sorority, which was named Nu Sigma Upsilon — initials "NSU," of course.
Quotable: "My diploma said 'Nevada Southern.' Later they asked me if I wanted to turn it in and get one that said UNLV. I said if I can't keep this one, then no. I wouldn't give it back."