More than 2,000 students graduated from Brookdale Community College on May 13 during the college’s 46th annual commencement ceremony on the Lincroft campus.
A total of 2,041 students from 18 different countries earned associate degrees from the college, with diplomas handed out during two ceremonies held in the Robert J. Collins Arena. The class of 2016 included 193 distinguished scholars and 34 students with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
“Graduates, congratulations on a successful academic journey,” said Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy, who joined Brookdale Board of Trustees Chair Carl Guzzo Jr. to welcome the graduates. “We have many distinguished guests who are here to honor you today… I cannot tell you how much we value your hard work and all of your achievements as Brookdale students.”
A total of 1,094 students earned associate in arts degrees; 492 earned associate in applied science degrees; 417 earned associate in science degrees; six earned associate in fine arts degrees; and 31 earned academic credit certificates. More than 240 graduates received scholarships through the Brookdale Foundation.
The ceremonies began with addresses by student ambassador Alexa Zajonc and honors graduate Bailey Falco. Zajonc detailed her efforts to overcome learning disabilities as a new college student, when she was required to complete a number of foundational studies courses before moving on to her credit coursework.
Thanks to Brookdale’s disability services office, counselors, tutors and faculty like Roseanne Alvarez and Dara Evans, however, Zajonc was able to thrive in the classroom and ultimately complete two internships with the Disney College Program.
She is now transferring to Kean University, where she plans to study English and special education. One day, she said, she would like return to Brookdale and possibly walk in the footsteps of her mentors.
“In high school I never got the best grades, but after using these services I have become a successful student, and a successful graduate of Brookdale Community College,” said Zajonc. “I know one day I would like to come back here and teach in the English department, because I want to become a professor just like Roseanne and Dara.”
Falco spoke passionately about Brookdale’s transformative power and encouraged future students to look past the “stigma” of a community college education.
“Brookdale has taught me more about myself than any four-year school could have,” said Falco. “Brookdale not only offered me the ability to learn, but to truly think about what I was learning in the context of myself and the world… As trite as it may sound, an education is what you make of it. Brookdale has offered me amazing opportunities. I want to thank all of the professors who have inspired me and shaped who I am. And I want to congratulate every single person graduating, because you deserve it.”
Honorary degrees were also awarded to commencement speakers Norma Hardy and Bernard Weinstein.
Hardy, of Neptune, serves as assistant police chief with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD), where she is the highest-ranking female officer in department history. In her first assignment with the PAPD in 1993, Hardy was awarded a medal for valor for her heroic rescue efforts following the Feb. 26 terror attack on the World Trade Center.
Today she also serves as chief of New Jersey aviation with the PAPD, where she oversees Newark International and Teterboro airports. She has received numerous awards in her career, including Officer of the Year from the International Association of Women Police.
“All things are possible if you work hard and believe in yourself. You can make anything happen,” Hardy told the graduates. “Be brave but not reckless, be proud yet humble, and as you walk your path, reach out your hand and bring someone along with you. Be a beacon in your community and an inspiration to your family.”
Weinstein, of Freehold, is a semi-retired attorney and a veteran of World War II. He has been practicing law in Monmouth County since 1964 while working as a vocal advocate for fellow veterans as a member of multiple veterans organizations.
He is a current member of the Brookdale Student Veterans Club and an ardent supporter of lifelong education, taking 68 courses at the college over the last 27 years. His current passion is the work of William Shakespeare.
College officials also presented Distinguished Alumni awards to Brookdale alumni Emily Chapman and Selma Morris.
Chapman, an Ocean Township native and alumna of the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park, won $50,000 and defeated celebrity chef Robert Irvine on the Food Network program “Chopped: Impossible” in 2015. Currently working as a sous chef in New York City, Chapman is undefeated in three separate appearances on the program.
Chapman discussed her own college experience, in which she enrolled in a four-year university with a full academic scholarship but was forced to withdraw due to personal challenges. In the end, however, Chapman said those challenges ultimately led her to the career of her dreams and a life she never imagined.
“Life gives you struggles sometimes,” Chapman said. “But enrolling in the Culinary Education Center was the best opportunity I could have been given. This school provides things for people that most people take for granted. Everything in life that is given to you is an opportunity to make something amazing.
“For those of you who have struggled, and for those of you who will, embrace it as an opportunity to conquer a challenge and better yourself,” Chapman added. “The future is as bright as you make it. And, as I can tell you, nothing is impossible. Follow your dreams, follow yourself, and follow your passion. Wherever that brings you, commit to it. Just remember where you are, where you come from, and that these people love you. This is your family and you are my family.”
Morris, a Long Branch native, is a former senior investigator for the Monmouth County Correctional Institution and currently serves as executive assistant to the Monmouth County sheriff.
She has served as a member of multiple community groups and advocacy organizations, including the National Association of Negro and Professional Women’s Club and the Monmouth County Cotillion Committee. A U.S. Army veteran, Morris has also helped coordinate law enforcement career fairs at Brookdale and received a Community Service Award from the NAACP of Greater Long Branch.
Seven graduates were also recognized for their outstanding academic achievements: Nekesha Adams; Alexander Karn; Melanie Katz; Anthony Pompili; Rebecca Stattner; Julianna Masco; and Jeffrey Villapiano.
In attendance at the ceremony were members of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Brookdale Board of Trustees, the Brookdale Foundation and the Brookdale Alumni Association, as well as Yesenia Madas, executive director of the New Jersey Center for Student Success, and outgoing Brookdale graduate trustee Paul Geissler.
Brookdale music professor Joseph Accurso and associate history professor George Reklaitis served as Grand Marshals for the ceremony.
Check out the full Commencement 2016 photo gallery here.