MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – After two years of holding virtual commencement ceremonies due to the pandemic, County College of Morris (CCM) held its fifty-third commencement ceremony in-person on Friday at Mennen Arena.
Welcoming the graduates, Dr. Anthony J. Iacono, CCM president, commended student leaders Leann Benny and Peter Balluffi-Fry for developing a strong student life environment at CCM during a pandemic. Amongst many volunteer responsibilities, the individuals along with their peers reinitiated clubs and activities first online, then in hybrid format, and then back on campus with innovative events to provide a sense of normalcy, human connectivity and accomplishment.
Iacono recognized other 2022 graduates such as Jason Vivian, who started CCM in 2014 taking two courses each semester to earn his AAS in Fire Science, Elyse Kelly earning her associate in Early Childhood Education and transferring to Saint Elizabeth University on a full-tuition scholarship, and Soo-Di Pimohammadi starting as an ESL student in 2015, now graduating with a degree in Nursing while simultaneously putting her son, Bobby, through CCM.
Iacono welcomed CCM’s Board of Trustees Chair George J. Milonas, a CCM alumnus, who commended the graduates for their bravery during the pandemic. “Every graduate has a story,” said Milonas, “and your stories are powerful and inspiring.” Milonas touched upon all that each graduate overcame, “You conquered it, you are graduating, and this day is about celebrating you, your achievement and your future, which is bright and strong.” He advised the graduates to pursue a life that is well-lived, “dream big, and don’t bet against yourself, you are our future leaders.”
County Commissioner Director Tayfun Selen, who immigrated to the United States in 1996, praised the strong partnership CCM has with Morris County, working to integrate local educational programs with lucrative employment opportunities.
“We built the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center … and are ready to build a new Entrepreneurship and Culinary Science Center,” Selen said.
Land is being allocated for a new Career and Technical Education Center on campus also. Selen recommended that the graduates embrace and own the unique opportunities for success and growth.
While recognizing veterans and active-duty military personnel, English Professor Laura Driver presented this year’s Peace Prize to graduate Jillian Polo. Born September 11, 2001, Polo created a tapestry of crocheted squares, whose series of yarn represents the experiences of those who have undergone tragedy united and interlocked to form one whole. Polo received a plaque and $1,000 award, and her name will be engraved on the permanent plaque located in the Student Community Center.
Iacono bestowed the honor of Faculty Emerita to Dr. Janet Eber, who began serving CCM in 1969 as a faculty member, assistant chair and chair of the Department of English & Philosophy, and acting dean of Humanities & Art. “Dr. Eber has taught hundreds, perhaps thousands,” said Iacono. He reviewed the numerous accolades Eber has earned during her tenure and applauded her professional commitment to the mission and goals of CCM.
Iacono surprised the audience by awarding an honorary degree to Dr. Bette Simmons, vice president of Student Development & Enrollment Management who is retiring after many years of service to the college.
Serving as the Keynote Speaker was CCM’s own Dr. Maria Isaza, a 1999 graduate of the college. Former chair of Biology & Chemistry, she has been the dean of the School of Health Professions & Natural Sciences since 2021. Born in the Republic of Colombia, Isaza came to the United States at the age of 21. She began her college education by enrolling in an English as a Second Language course at CCM. This put her on an inspiring educational journey as she next studied medical laboratory technology to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree. Having discovered an acuity for biology, Isaza also pursued that subject further at CCM earning an Associate of Science in Biology. With a strong desire to continue her education, she transferred to the College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE), now Saint Elizabeth University, to pursue a bachelor’s degree. She then went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, now Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.
Isaza spoke with empathy, compassion and pride, truly grateful to have the opportunity to share her story with those in attendance. She went into detail about life as an immigrant and wearing many hats in various forms of employment. She began her education at CCM in 1993 and gradually completed each rigorous component including earning her Ph.D. while balancing other responsibilities. Isaza’s take home message to the graduates was to “stay in touch with your professors.”
Serving as the student speaker, Benny spoke to her peers about the qualities they learned to quickly adopt – perseverance, determination and resiliency, and the obstacles the Titans overcame. “Class of 2022, we made it!”
To view photos from commencement, click here.