MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – County College of Morris held its 54th Commencement at Mennen Arena on Thursday in celebration of the Class of 2023, consisting of approximately 1,025 graduates.
Welcoming the graduates, Dr. Anthony J. Iacono, CCM president, said, “You truly are a class like no other. Many of you began your studies during the pandemic – a period of tremendous uncertainty, stress and loss. Yet you demonstrated incredible focus and refused to let even a pandemic stop you from moving forward. Your sheer determination to earn your degree and reach your dreams has brought you to this moment today.”
He then went on to highlight several outstanding graduates.
Liyalani “Lili” Roebuck, originally from Newark, strove to be an excellent student while in high school and engaged in activities that assisted others. After graduating high school In 2020, she planned to attend Hampton University in Virginia. Just before leaving, her life was shattered by a senseless shooting. In recovery, she decided that she would not be a victim and decided instead to thrive. Her first step was to forgive her assailant and her second was to enroll at CCM with the goal of graduating with honors. In addition to a caring family that helped her thrive, she had the advocacy of Dr. John W. Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. She graduates with a degree in Psychology and is transferring to Rutgers. “Keep on thriving Lili,” said Iacono. “Keep making us proud.”
Yet another member of the Class of 2023, Stephanie Wildrick, of Blairstown, lost her husband, Ronald, in Afghanistan when his military vehicle was struck by an IED. Left to care for their two young daughters, she received the support of Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which provides mortgage-free homes to families of fallen soldiers. With the ability to care for her family eased, she decided to continue her education and prepare for a nursing career. “Stephanie thank you for choosing CCM,” said Iacono. “You are a pillar of strength and conviction and you have inspired many. Keep caring and keep inspiring.”
Also in the Class of 2023, Calvin Solomon, of Morristown, came to CCM as an adult learner, looking to establish himself in the medical field as a technician. He started in the Mechanical Engineering Technology Program, but, along with the rest of the world, had to pivot during the pandemic. Never one to shy from giving back, he coached upcoming students in the Electrical Engineering Technology Biomedical Program on real-world expectations. While putting himself through school, he found work in the biomedical equipment field before completing his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. “Calvin – congratulations,” said Iacono. “You are proof positive that some dreams are worth fighting for and quitting is never an option.”
Presented with the Sherman and Dorothy Masten Memorial Scholarship was Christopher Wright, of Budd Lake/Mount Olive, graduating with a degree in Graphic Design/Animation. Dr. Sherman H. Masten was the founding president of CCM. The Masten Scholarship is presented to a graduate with a minimum 3.5 GPA who has been accepted into a four-year college or university.
Iacono next welcomed CCM’s Board of Trustees Chair George J. Milonas ’98, a CCM alumnus.
Speaking to the graduates, Milonas said, “For me, making the decision to attend CCM was the right one. It gave me the tools to pursue a rewarding career that has allowed me to work in the public and private sectors, as well as in academia,” he said. Encouraging the graduates, he added, “Don’t be afraid. Lean in. Believe in yourself to make the right decision. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will often learn the most from them.”
Also speaking to the graduates, County Commissioner Director John Krickus noted, “We at the Morris County Board of County Commissioners … have prioritized education. We have enthusiastically provided funding for several projects: the new Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center, the to-be-built expansion of the culinary program and an entrepreneurship center, and on the CCM campus a $25 million, 500-student, expansion of the Morris Vocational School District. The education, skills and careers you are developing are not only important to you and your families, they are vitally important to our nation.”
English Professor Laura Driver presented this year’s Peace Prize to graduate Hannah Ernst, of Parsippany, for her project “Faces of Covid Victims” – www.facebook.com/facesofcovidvictims. Ernst’s project is an international initiative that has aided over 20,000 families and created over 3,000 digital, personalized memorials to commemorate loved ones lost to COVID-19. The passing of her grandfather, Cal Schoenfeld, due to COVID-19, was her inspiration as he gave Ernst a passion for literature, art and music. She plans to attend Rutgers and major in Psychology, concentrating on Criminal Profiling.
Serving as the Keynote Speaker was Tom Bergeron, editor and chief content officer of ROI-NJ, which he helped launch in 2017. An influential journalist in New Jersey for more than two decades, Bergeron has guided the development of ROI-NJ, into a highly successful digital and print news outlet covering the world of business and politics in New Jersey.
Speaking to the graduates, Bergeron encouraged them to take advantage of their smartphones to research, explore opportunities and improve their lives.
“After coming up with an idea – a product or service that you feel is needed – you can go on your phone and quickly discover if anyone else has the same idea. And if they do, you can quickly analyze the quality and cost of their product or service and figure out if your idea can compete. It’s the type of market research that people of my generation would have paid thousands of dollars for,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron also encouraged the graduates to take time to set aside their phones to focus on relationships. “Your phone isn’t perfect. Make no doubt about it, those who only have relationships through social media and text messages always will have a hole to fill,” he said. “So, find a job, a hobby, a volunteer project where you are forced to put down your phone and interact with people you don’t know. It will be an incredible life lesson.”
At the ceremony, Dr. Dorothy Hollowell, retired English professor, was bestowed the honor of Faculty Emerita. Hollowell began teaching at CCM in 1988. During her tenure, she served as director and tutor for the English department’s Writing Center and assistant program coordinator for the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Graduates’ Program.
Serving as the student speaker, Zuleyka Obando, of Hackettstown, vice president of the Student Government Association, shared, “My journey began here at the County College of Morris right after graduating from Mount Olive High School. Unsure of where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I began taking courses and realized that coming here was the best decision I have ever made.”