More than 2,000 students graduated from Brookdale Community College on May 12 during the college’s 47th annual commencement ceremony on the Lincroft campus.
A total of 2,162 students from 21 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 2017 included 219 distinguished scholars and 31 students with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
A total of 1,165 students earned associate in arts degrees; 527 earned associate in applied science degrees; 427 earned associate in science degrees; 16 earned associate in fine arts degrees; and 46 earned academic credit certificates.
This year’s graduating class was recognized by a host of local and state dignitaries, including Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, Monmouth County Freeholders Lillian Burry, John Curley and Thomas Arnone, the Brookdale Board of Trustees and hundreds of Brookdale faculty, staff and administrators.
The ceremonies began with graduate addresses by elementary education major Teresa Burns and biology and health science major Sameerah Wahab. Burns, a single mother of two and a paraprofessional in the Hazlet Township School District, described her experience returning to college as an adult learner and navigating the challenges of work, school and family simultaneously. Thanks to a long list of faculty, staff and advisors, however, Burns said she was able to excel at Brookdale and ultimately graduate with a 4.0 GPA.
“I was able to achieve things at Brookdale that I never thought I could,” said Burns, of Howell, who was also inducted into the Brookdale chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) international honor society. “And I must say that I was not a great student in high school. But I knew if I applied myself and set achievable goals then all was possible… I can proudly say that I am a more balanced and well-rounded person now, because of the classes that I have taken, the professors who motivated and inspired me as well as the many good friends I made here.
Wahab discussed her own academic career at Brookdale, which will go down as one of the most noteworthy in recent memory. Throughout the past two years, Wahab has served as a NASA STEM Fellow, Brookdale PTK officer, honors program mentor, and in 2016 was named to the All-USA Academic Team and recognized as one of the top 20 community students in the country.
“I believe Brookdale’s amazing resources catalyzed my own personal and professional development both inside and outside the classroom,” said Wahab, of Howell. “Its ample opportunities not only helped me to overcome fears, but gave me the drive to reach for things I never believed to be possible. I believe many of you can relate to the statement, that, in some way or another, attending Brookdale changed you.
“In our learning and working alongside each other – a diverse population of individuals – we all shared at least one thing in common: we fought to sit in this auditorium today,” added Wahab. “Therefore this diploma or certificate is not just a piece of paper- it represents the dedication, drive, and perseverance that got us here. For that you should all be incredibly proud, because I know I am.”
Honorary degrees were also awarded to Carlos Rodriguez, executive director of the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and Carol Stillwell, president and CEO of Stillwell Hansen, Inc.
As executive director of the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties since 2012, Rodriguez has led efforts that collect and distribute more than 10 million meals each year through a network of more than 300 programs. He has also led a number of outreach programs and long-term support services such as the food bank’s Culinary Training Program and free tax assistance for residents.
“You are now an example,” Rodriguez told the graduates. “You are now a success that others can mirror, and you are now the strength that others will be able to find in your example. I don’t want to congratulate you; I want to welcome you to a future of many successes. And I hope that, as many have helped you along the way, that you will do the same for your neighbor as you meet them in your long life ahead.”
Stillwell, of Holmdel, is president of Stillwell Hansen, Inc., an award-winning equipment distribution company based in Edison. An acclaimed advocate for female representation in traditionally male-dominated industries, Stillwell has been recognized as one of New Jersey’s top businesswomen four times in the last ten years.
She is also a dedicated philanthropist, working to support local and national organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Association, Monmouth Medical Center, the Community YMCA, the Ashley Lauren Foundation and the Brookdale Community College Foundation.
College officials also presented Distinguished Alumni awards to Brookdale alumni Deborah Josko and Brian Hanlon.
Josko, a 1985 Brookdale graduate, has served as associate professor and director of the Medical Laboratory Science Program Program at the Rutgers University School of Health Professions for more than 20 years. Prior to her academic career she worked in the clinical laboratory setting for 12 years specializing in clinical microbiology. She is also a past president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, a published author and nationally recognized authority in the fields of clinical laboratory science and clinical microbiology.
“I am forever grateful to Brookdale for this opportunity, and I want to thank the amazing faculty who gave me the foundation and the skills I needed to go on to continue my education and have a successful career,” said Josko, whose nephew Nicholas was graduating from Brookdale on the same day. “Graduates, this is not the end. This is just the beginning. And this is my advice to you. Always have three sets of goals going at once: your short-term goals, your long-term goals, and your lifetime goals. And when you achieve a goal, set another one. Always be striving for something, and you will always be working toward bettering yourself. Congratulations.”
Hanlon, who first studied art at Brookdale in 1979, is a classically trained master sculptor and founder of Hanlon Sculpture Studio in Toms River. He has completed more than 300 public and private pieces for schools, universities, churches, memorial foundations and other organizations across the country, including the New Jersey Gold Star Family Memorial at the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Holmdel and the “Welcome to Ocean County” installation located on Route 37 in Toms River.
Hanlon also serves as official sculptor for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
During his speech, Hanlon announced his hope to one day honor his alma mater by building a 12-foot-tall “Jersey Blue” statue on campus, and took time out to thank Brookdale art professor Tony Blaser for first introducing him to clay.
“It’s worked out pretty well,” said Hanlon.
Six graduates representing each of Brookdale’s academic institutes were also presented with the 2017 Outstanding Student Award. The honorees, recognized for their exceptional academic and personal achievements, were: Erich Ballard, of Middletown; Tracey Cahill, of Spring Lake; Kelsey Giggenbach, of Howell; Michael Anthony LaMura, of Bradley Beach; Samuel Monroe, of Middletown; and Diana Pauciullo, of Freehold Township.
Brookdale computer science professor Thomas Setaro and counseling professor Cathleen Goode Joseph Accurso served as Grand Marshals for the ceremony.
View more photos of the 2017 Commencement Ceremonies here.