With 980 associate in arts degrees, 532 associates in applied science degrees, 474 associate in social science degrees awarded; 19 Poseidon early college high school and 9 St. John Vianney early college academy graduates; 68 academic credit certificates, and 29 academic credit certificates of achievement conferred, there was much to celebrate on May 10 in the Collins Arena.
The ceremonies were recognized by Monmouth County Government Freeholders Lillian Burry, John Curley, and Patrick Impreveduto, as well as Brookdale’s Board of Trustees, and hundreds of the college’s faculty, staff, and administrators, who attended the ceremonies held at the Lincroft Campus.
Students Katie Lewandowski, of Union Beach, and Cynthia Matthews-Duran, of Wall, were selected to speak on behalf of the graduating class at the morning and afternoon ceremonies, respectively.
Lewandowski, a member of Phi Theta Kappa and President of Sigma Kappa Delta, said her path to Brookdale appeared “the night of Hurricane Sandy” in 2012. With college funds used for housing, the Lewandowskis began a search for excellent and affordable educational options, “and that is when we were introduced to Brookdale.” Ever since Middle School, she shared, it has been her goal to be the first in her family to graduate from college. She was proud to say that she and her twin sister, Carly, are doing just that “thanks to Brookdale Community College.”
Lewandowski described the relationships forged with her professors as “genuine, unmatched, and unique.” She said these relationships led to many successes and opportunities she would not have discovered if not for her decision to attend Brookdale. “First semester me never dreamed about standing here, speaking with you all right now,” she said, “but that is the Brookdale impact.” Lewandowski graduates with a 3.7 GPA and continues studying early childhood education and English at Kean University in the Fall.
Matthews-Duran, a returning student touting a 3.5 GPA, thanked faculty and family, and particularly her children, for providing “immeasurable and invaluable” guidance. She asked the graduates to consider “what is your why?” A young mother, Matthews-Duran said she struggled with anxiety and low self-esteem. As she was trying to navigate her responsibilities, Matthews-Duran returned to Brookdale three times over the span of eleven years, after being on academic probation and facing “countless obstacles to overcome.” The last time, though, was determined” to succeed for her own why: her children. Matthews-Duran raised her GPA, made Dean’s List twice, won the first fashion show she ever entered, and received a congratulatory call from the first lady of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy. She described taking advantage of the value Brookdale offers, including library books, internships, short-term local jobs, clubs and organizations, projects, activities, even taking on a student worker job here on campus in the Fashion Department. Matthews-Duran has had her designs featured in four fashion shows and a fashion magazine. She is most proud of living an excellent example for her “amazing kids.”
“Life will, no doubt, and without any uncertainty throw you curveballs,” she said. “It will eventually happen to all of us at different times.” But, she shared, “we can prepare for them before it happens and we can harness resiliency to bounce back after it hits.” She believes recovering quickly and knowing your why make all the difference, and shared that these are the lessons she learned attending Brookdale.
Seven graduates representing Brookdale’s four academic institutes received the college’s 2017-18 Outstanding Student Award in recognition of their academic achievements: Katherine Carias and Emily Abrecht, Business and Social Science; Karyssa D’Agostino, Humanities; Olga Kaplansky, Health Sciences; and, Jordan Grillo and Anthony Mauro, STEM.
Honorary Degrees were presented to Carol Stillwell, President of Stillwell Hansen, Inc., Joan and Robert Rechnitz, Founders of the Two River Theater in Red Bank NJ, and Restauranteur Marilyn Schlossbach.
Stillwell shared advice on the past, present, and future, and told graduates to believe in themselves, just as her mother taught her. She encouraged students to find their happiness and to give back to the community, which, she shared, provides great happiness for her.
Joan and Robert Rechnitz shared their impressions of Brookdale’s campus and the plethora of people and opportunity, which Robert described as “exhausting” after having toured the entire campus and facilities with Webster Tramell.
Schlossback founded and now manages Marilyn Schlossbach Group, is an environmentalist, traveler, community activist, and surfer, on a continual quest for culture, knowledge, and the road less traveled. Endeavoring to support and cultivate her community through the culinary arts, including collaborations with Interfaith Neighbors in Asbury, with Koola Café, community garden and surf lessons with the Boys and Girls Club of Asbury Park, and Clean Ocean Action and others.
Stout recognized Distinguished Alumni Doris B. Hudak, class of 1983, Trustee Emeritus of the Brookdale Community College Alumni Association, and Colleen M. Lyons, class of 1980, Chief Information Officer at North Shore LIJ Health System.
Hudak told the graduating class that discovering their dreams, planning for them, and bringing them to fruition is the secret to life. The secret, she continued, is repeating this over and over, as new dreams are discovered.
Lyons told the graduates “your path is yours;” own it. “The path may not be a straight line anymore;” she continued, it may be a circle, or jagged lines, and include questions like “why am I here?” If you are doing what you want to do, she said, then it is right. Lyons said that through changes Brookdale has made over the course of forty years, “it still feels like Brookdale.” Still, she said, “I feel like I belong here.” She then told the graduates that though she started in 1978, she is still proud to say she attended Brookdale, and told them “be proud” of their accomplishments at the college, too.
Dr. Matthew Reed, Vice President of Learning, presented the graduates to Stout, who conferred their certification. Professors George Reklaitis, Mary Beth Boylan, Ian Anderson, and Michelle Zuppe announced the graduates. Professors Geanna Merola and Ed O’Neill served as ceremony Grand Marshalls.
The retiring Dean of Humanities, Dr. Carl Calendar, who has attended every graduation ceremony in his 48-years at Brookdale, was recognized by Stout, and honored with two standing ovations. “Everyone in this room,” Stout noted, “has been impacted by Dr. Calendar in some way.”
The graduating Class of 2018 represents nearly twenty countries from around the world; students have studied in Ghana, Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Bermuda, and Spain; the class includes 243 distinguished scholars, three students graduating with a Global Citizen Distinction, and 24 students with perfect 4.0 GPAs.
There is no doubt the Class of 2018 is an impressive one. Congratulations to all!
Story written by Dara Evans