Forty years ago this month Richard Stockton State College opened its doors to almost 1,000 students, 97 staff and 60 full-time faculty.

Its first location was not the bucolic Pinelands setting in Galloway Township, but at the stately, if somewhat rundown Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City which, like its namesake ship, would introduce students to a great new adventure.

Having a beach nearby didn't hurt.

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In January 1972 the college moved to the Galloway campus where it would become the College in The Pines, a designation that would help imprint its commitment to the environment, but also restrict its growth to only about a quarter of the almost 1,600 acre site.

In human years, 40 is approaching middle age. But Stockton at 40, like its students, is really just entering adulthood. Led by four visionary and occasionally controversial presidents, enrollment now approaches 8,000 students in both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Like its students, Stockton is also at a time of change and growth. College leaders have spent the last decade asking what they want the college to be and how it should fit into its South Jersey environment while preparing students for a global society. It's a role everyone at the college takes seriously. A special book "Reaching 40" contains 64 essays on Stockton's past, future and role as educational institution and community role model.

In 1969 Stockton's first president, Richard Bjork, told the Rotary Club to expect both students and faculty to be activists who would question everything.

The "hippie" college matured under presidents Peter Mitchell and Vera King Farris but never let its focus shift from its primary mission, educating students.

"We were activists," said Harvey Kesselman, one of the original "Mayflower" students who is now provost at the college.

He jokes that he took the college's early recruiting motto of "Plant Yourself Where You Can Grow" seriously. But, he said, the Stockton has never wavered from its commitment to undergraduate student learning and community.

"Stockton was always designed to be different," Kesselman said, a message now sent through its new motto as New Jersey's Distinctive Public College.

Current president Herman J. Saatkamp, Jr, tells parents at commencement that their graduates are a promise to a future they cannot see.

The college, too, is a promise to South Jersey that while it will prepare students for a global future they can only imagine, its roots are firmly planted in the Pinelands.

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