WEST WINDSOR – A Mercer County Community College (MCCC) record 1,188 students received their college degrees and certificates May 19 during the 49th annual commencement ceremony, and were sent to the next step in their careers with words of encouragement, praise, and inspiration.
“You are here today to not only participate in a ceremony, but more importantly to celebrate the power of education,” said Dr. Jianping Wang, MCCC president.
“I was born in China at the time girls were not valued, let along given the opportunity to go to college. You have similar stories. Many of you came from faraway places. You have faced substantial social, economic, and cultural challenges. You have managed to work, care for children, manage a household, and care for family members while pursuing a college education.”
Wang pointed to graduate Radislaw Dlugowski, a first-generation college student from a Polish immigrant family, who completed his studies in Physics with a 3.98 GPA and will attend Purdue University to study Nuclear Engineering. Wang also recognized mother and son graduates Rose and Nnamdi Nnajiofor, who graduated together and will attend Rutgers University this fall.
“You have demonstrated extraordinary resilience in getting where you are today,” Wang said.
Wang also applauded the perseverance of 2016's commencement student speaker, Gabriel Matt, who was diagnosed with learning disabilities and after a 11-year Army career – including two tours of duty in Iraq – returned to civilian life with multiple conditions and injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder. He graduated with a 3.25 GPA in Engineering Science and will attend Rutgers this fall.
In his address to students Matt, with his service dog, Louie, at his side, drew from his experiences growing up in an economically-disadvantaged neighborhood in Los Angeles, his battle with learning disabilities, military service in combat zones, and injuries he suffered as a result.
“I am not telling you about this for your sympathy or pity, but to let you know that if I can have that much going against me and still be going to Rutgers for Engineering, then you too can accomplish whatever your heart desires,” Matt said.
For the first time at a Mercer commencement, an alumnus was invited to deliver the keynote address: Marsha Stoltman, a 1981 graduate with an A.A.S. degree in Business and owner of Hamilton-based The Stoltman Group, a corporate event planning firm. A native of St. Louis who moved to New Jersey with her husband, Stoltman first came to Mercer as an employee – and later enrolled as a student.
Stoltman went on to earn her degree and then served as the student representative to the MCCC Board of Trustees. In 1983, she was appointed by Gov. Thomas Kean as a full voting member of the board.
“I was not done with Mercer, nor was it done with me,” she said.
Stoltman went on to praise the community college concept, and encouraged graduates to embrace it as they moved forward with their careers.
“You have had the privilege to attend one of the finest community colleges in this country,” Stoltman said. “You have surely benefited by the smaller classes that community colleges provide, the professors who took the time to listen to your questions and share your interests, the counselors who worked with you to guide you through the academic process to the success you wanted to achieve.
“Community colleges are all about student success, and that is what each of you has achieved today – success.”
In a highlight of the ceremony, MCCC Professor Bob Pugh was announced as the recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Teaching Award, which is determined by nominations from students.
In accepting the award, Pugh recounted his own story of growing up in the mountains of West Virginia, where a life of working in the coal mines was much more likely than earning a college degree. And he encouraged the MCCC class of 2016 to take stock of their own lives and be mindful of how that got to where they are.
“You have traveled many different paths to get to where you are at this moment,” Pugh told the graduates. “All of you have endured hardships along the way…My words of wisdom to the graduating class of 2016 is to take a moment to think of all the people who helped you along the way, and to thank them for their support and kindness.”
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