It was triple the Pomp and Circumstance on Tuesday, when Montclair State University held three Commencement exercises at Prudential Center in Newark to allow for the University’s 5,386 graduates – many of whom are first generation – to each safely have several guests in attendance without concern for inclement weather.
The Class of 2023, whose number included nearly 1,600 graduate students, comprised one of the largest graduating classes in Montclair history. (You can read more about some of our inspiring graduates here.) Seven graduates served as student speakers, telling their own stories of perseverance, while also congratulating their peers for their hard work, dedication and resilience.
While the majority of the undergraduates were freshmen when the COVID-19 pandemic turned their first year of college upside down, they did not dwell on the past but looked to the future.
“This is a celebration of hard work and commitment. It’s a celebration of fortitude and resilience under extraordinary circumstances,” Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell told the graduates. “You got here today, notwithstanding something that none of us had ever experienced up on this stage – earning your college degree in the middle of the COVID pandemic, pivoting to remote learning which you didn’t expect to do. What an exceptional thing that you can be proud of today.”
Koppell remembered those who didn’t make it through the pandemic and recognized the front-line workers, first responders, doctors and nurses in the audience and among the graduates, who, through their sacrifices, helped the community get through – and acknowledged all of those who supported the graduates on their journey.
“None of us gets to where we are alone. We thrive as a community. In fact, the last few years underscores the degree to which we are all connected,” he said, asking all the parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, classmates, faculty and staff to stand. “Everyone whose patience, kind words, encouragement and more helped you achieve your potential. This is all of our celebration today.”
Graduates also received a surprise congratulatory message with advice from Star Trek actor William Shatner, beamed in from a frontier as far away as Los Angeles.
“The future can be a better place, and it will be a better place if you make it so. As you graduate today and prepare to boldly go where many people have gone before,” Shatner told the Montclair graduates. “I urge you to imagine a future where there is peace and plenty, equality, justice and harmony. A future where every child could be a starship captain.”
8:30 a.m. Commencement
- Feliciano School of Business
- College of the Arts
See additional photos in our Ceremony 1 SmugMug Gallery and check back later for more.
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Photos by John J. LaRosa and Roy Groething.
One of the resilient and optimistic members of the Class of 2023 is master’s graduate Desmond Durham, who was one of the students who spoke at the Commencement exercises for the College of Education and Human Services and the College of Science and Mathematics. Durham, a single father, was raised by his single mother, and, when Durham was 11, his absentee father was murdered. After teaching in Newark for 10 years, Durham decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership in order to make a larger impact in Newark.
“I wondered if I could finish such a rigorous program while working three jobs and being a single father. I asked myself, where would I find the time? Am I smart enough? I then considered how I would disappoint my son, Desmond Jr., and every single one of my students by passing up this opportunity,” Durham said. “I hope my story empowers young men of color who look and sound like me to never give up on their dreams because no dream is too big, and nothing we desire for the future is out of our reach.”
All of the University’s colleges and schools were split into the three ceremonies with graduates from the Feliciano School of Business and the College of the Arts walking across the stage in the morning; graduates from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the School of Nursing and University College walking in the afternoon; and graduates from the College of Education and Human Services and the College of Science and Mathematics walking in the evening.
Graduates who had spent time as the University’s mascot, Rocky the Red Hawk, wore their big bird feet to reveal their identity, to the cheers of their fellow graduates. Read more about the students who have been Rocky these last few years.
With each ceremony, there were tears of joy, lots of hugs and laughter, and the pride that comes with recognizing major accomplishments and a feeling of anticipation for what the future holds.
Undergraduate Oluwateniola “Teni” Bello, who was one of the student speakers at the morning ceremony for the College of the Arts and the Feliciano School of Business, told her fellow graduates that she began college thinking she would study to be an astrophysicist but she “was humbled” by physics courses and found that her true passion was actually in sports communication. She encouraged her peers to be open to change.
“Follow your dreams, but be willing to reinvent yourself when necessary,” she said. “Embrace failure, but never give up on your goals and your integrity. Remember, your art has the power to transform the world, but it starts with transforming yourself.”
MBA graduate Anthony Goncalves Noguiera, told the crowd that “Graduation is certainly not an end, but a beginning. We need to prioritize chasing our dreams, setting new goals and making a positive impact on the world. We have the power to truly shape our own destinies and to create a brighter future for ourselves and those around us.”
2 p.m. Commencement
- College of Humanities and Social Sciences
- School of Nursing
- University College
See additional photos in our Ceremony 2 SmugMug Gallery and check back later for more.
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Photos by John J. LaRosa and Saed Hindash.
Maria Escoda Morales, a Child Advocacy and Policy major who was born in Puerto Rico, spoke on behalf of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, focusing on the pride she and all of her fellow graduates should feel.
“Dreams are often depicted as these fictitious or out-of-reach fantasies, but I can only describe today as a dream come true,” she said. “…My journey has been filled with trials and tribulations, as well as enormous blessings and favor. I stand before you as a first-generation college graduate, and I know I am not alone.”
Christopher Taite, who was the student speaker for University College, completed his degree after a 12-year absence from school during which he built a career. He was among the first cohort of nine students to successfully complete the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program.
“Commencement is one of the proudest moments of my life, but everything I went through to get here is equally as important,” he said. “I believe that in life we do not have losses but rather lessons. The message I want to share with you all is that the journey is just as important as the destination.”
Student speaker and nurse Angelika Gutowska, who grew up with a single mother who came to the U.S. from Poland, graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing. She urged fellow nurses: “Never lose sight of the reason why we chose to become nurses in the first place: to make a difference in the lives of others.”
7:30 p.m. Commencement
- College of Education and Human Services
- College of Science and Mathematics
See additional photos in our Ceremony 3 SmugMug Gallery and check back later for more.
Click on an image below to enlarge photo.
Photos by John J. LaRosa and Aristide Economopoulos.
College of Science and Mathematics Commencement speaker and Navy veteran John James Eakley urged his fellow graduates: “Don’t just break free from limitations – shatter them. Embrace the challenges that lie ahead, and never forget the power of your own potential…. So go out there, chase your dreams, and make a difference.”
In one of the most moving moments of the day, College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Peter Kingstone, presented Elisa Michel’s diploma to her mother. Michel would have graduated today with a degree in French Translation and a minor in International Studies, but passed away in March after an illness.
“Elisa proved herself to be an excellent student and a brilliant translator, fluent in three languages (English, Spanish, French),” Kingstone said. “She had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris in the summer of 2022 – an experience that opened up the world to her. She is sorely missed by all who knew her and worked and studied with her.”
Accepting her daughter’s diploma and a bouquet of flowers, Teresa Nuñez embraced Kingstone and Koppell, mouthed “thank you” and cried as she looked upward, holding the diploma aloft.