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When Les Josza came to the University of British Columbia to study forestry 50 years ago, he had more adjusting to do than the average new student.

He and his family had just fled Hungary, abandoning their home as the Soviet tanks rolled in. Mr. Josza, his parents and his five siblings carried what they could and joined the thousands crossing the border into Austria.

"This went on day after day after day," he said. "It was a very bitter thing to see, my fellow citizens fleeing their home."

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But in 1957, there came a chance for a new start.

UBC opened its doors to faculty members and 200 students - including Mr. Josza - from Hungary's Sopron School of Forestry, displaced during the 1956 Soviet invasion. The students were promised instruction in Hungarian, with a gradual introduction of English courses taught by UBC instructors.

By May of 1961, more than 70 per cent of the students had graduated, including several women who were among the first to earn their forestry degrees at UBC.

"It was a bold experiment and it worked," said Murray Coell, B.C.'s Minister of Advanced Education, during yesterday's ceremony to commemorate their achievements, 50 years after they first set foot on the campus.

Like students on graduation day, they strutted proudly across the field in front of the forestry services building, loudly singing songs in their native Hungarian. Now in their 60s and 70s, they each walked through a commemorative gate, which Mr. Josza helped carve out of cedar in 2001 as a symbol of freedom.

The former students and faculty also walked past the newly installed kopjafa, or carved post, which Mr. Josza whittled out of a fallen cedar struck down in Stanley Park during last December's windstorm. He designed it himself, incorporating a pine cone to symbolize a new beginning, and five rings to represent each decade.

Niklaus Gratzer, a 73-year-old Sopron alumni and former student president, said it was fitting.

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"They salvaged us from a revolutionary storm, and this would be an appropriate memorial. This is our gift to UBC, because we appreciate everything we received from here," he said. "This enhances the campus, just like any group of foreign students that come."

Many of these Sopron alumni went on to teach at UBC or other universities, or work as forestry experts for the government. Mr. Gratzer spent five years with the B.C. Forestry Service and now teaches forestry at State University of New York. And Mr. Josza, 69, is a scientist emeritus who works at the nearby research agency Forintek.

UBC president and vice-chancellor Stephen Toope said it was a deal that was mutually beneficial.

"We learned how incredibly generous and productive an immigrant community can be," he said. "We learned how much we have to gain from other cultures and other people."

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