It was an historic occasion for Middlesex College: Thursday, May 20, saw the largest class in its history graduate, and the first under its new name, Middlesex College.
Formerly known as Middlesex County College, the two-year institution changed its name in January, and this is the first class whose diplomas will use the new term.
The record number of graduates – 1,871 – eclipses the previous record of 1,592 in 2020.
The ceremony was held virtually because of the pandemic.
Richa Nayak of North Brunswick, who is double majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics, was the valedictorian and gave the class welcome. She is planning to transfer to Rutgers University and major in Computer Science.
Nayak acknowledged the challenges of attending class during a pandemic, but said the experience made the class stronger.
“We have persevered and grown through these challenging times to find our way to success,” she said. “I feel proud to be a part of this bold, persistent and victorious class.”
She also thanked friends and families for their role in the graduates’ success.
“While we celebrate our accomplishments, we couldn’t have done it alone,” she said. “I would like to thank every parent, for teaching us to get back up whenever we fall down in life. I would like to thank those friends who call to wake you up in time for class, who get you a box of tissues when you burst into tears at college, and who drive you around because you don’t have your license yet. These two years would not have been possible without you. Most importantly, I’d like to thank each and every professor for imparting knowledge in us. That is the real achievement today.
“Thank you, Dr. Steven Zale, for teaching me to challenge myself to find the best possible algorithm. Thank you, Professor Celia Winchester – who was the reason I was able to write a speech today – for motivating me to advocate for mental health awareness. Thank you, Professors Clarie Vassiliadis and Cristobal Espinoza, for your support and encouragement along the way,” she said.
The ceremony also featured a speech by the 2021 Alumna of the Year, Kathleen Morgan, of the Class of 1985, chair of Family & Community Health Sciences at the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
“A few years ago, you made a choice to come to Middlesex College,” she said. “Some of you might have come here right from high school, while others may have had a job and wanted to determine what advantages a college degree would provide. Many of you most likely had a job and school, or a family and school. It also might not have been an easy path for you financially. I understand. By your sheer determination, you are graduating today.”
She urged the class to take advantage of the education they received at Middlesex College as they prepare for the next phase of their lives.
“The degree you receive today will be the key that has the potential to open many doors in your future and your success,” she said. “Your time here at Middlesex College provided a solid academic foundation for you to choose a profession to pursue or to further your education that will allow you to make a difference in the lives of others.”
The Class of 2021 included several pairs of twins.
Mayra and Vanesa Romero of Edison are identical twins, best friends, and now graduates of Middlesex College. They are one of several sets of twins graduating this year.
They attended Edison High School, where they were in the Future Teachers’ Club. They came to Middlesex College and plan to transfer to Kean University after a short break.
The twins enjoy each other’s company.
“We’re in the same group of friends, so we’re always hanging out together,” Mayra Romero said.
They plans to spend the fall substitute teaching, trying to figure out what grade level on which to focus.
Attending school together was great, but sometimes a bit of a challenge. They were in numerous classes together and say they tend to think alike, so they needed to select different topics to write about, lest the professor feel they were collaborating.
The both had a great experience at Middlesex College.
“We had really great professors,” Mayra Romero said.
So after Kean, they’d plan to become teachers.
And what if they ended up at the same school?
“I think that’d be cool,” Vanesa Romero said.
Other notable grads included Shanice Pearson of Metuchen.
“I was looking for three things in a college: convenience, affordability and a tight-knit community,” she said. “I found all three at Middlesex College.”
A Criminal Justice major, Pearson is transferring to Rider University in the fall. She plans to become a juvenile probation officer.
“I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity at the College,” she said.
She was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society; the secretary of the Juvenile Justice Reform Club, where she worked with kids in the New Brunswick Detention Center; and she was very active in Democracy House, the center for civic engagement at the College, in which she was part of the team that collected donations for local nonprofit organizations.
Tyler Sharfetz of Fords is a .300 hitter, with power, and an excellent catcher, who handles pitchers well, blocks balls in the dirt, and has a rocket arm. He is graduating with a degree in Education; he plans to transfer to Misericordia University to play baseball and become a special education teacher.
“The education here was wonderful,” he said. “The professors were so helpful and caring. I’d highly recommend Middlesex College. And I loved being on the baseball team, 100%. The coaches are great and my teammates are guys I hope to be hanging out with years from now.”
Giselle Vidals of North Brunswick is an Allied Health major who will be transferring to William Paterson University’s nursing program and Honors College. She is planning to become a traveling nurse, specializing in critical care nursing. She will then apply to Physician Assistant programs around the country.
Vidals was very active at Middlesex College. She was the co-president of the college’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges.
“I’ve been able to implement support initiatives focused on providing resources for individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness,” she said. “The first project was the Donate a Care Package campaign where gallon-sized Ziploc bags were filled with basic necessities and winter essentials: socks, gloves, masks, feminine hygiene products, and what we believed could be helpful to someone who found themselves turned away from full-capacity shelters during a pandemic and cold winter. We were able to collect around 200 care packages for the Ozanam Family Shelter in Edison.”
She learned that socks are in short supply in shelters, she proposed the Warm Their Soles donation drives.
Diana Osorio of East Brunswick is a Biotechnology major and her passion is community service.
At the beginning of 2021, she started serving as a translator for the Spanish-speaking community receiving their COVID-19 vaccine.
She is also volunteering for a nonprofit organization, PPE Relief Initiative, which offers free vaccine booking help for anyone eligible in New York and New Jersey.
“My role involves to translating documentation from English to Spanish, to outreach to the Latino community in this effort to rebuild our community, and to schedule COVID-19 vaccines smoothly and effortlessly.”
She was also involved in Democracy House’s efforts to encourage young people to register to vote. She is transferring to the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers, New Brunswick and will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in General Biotechnology.
After graduating from Rutgers, she plans to go to medical school and become a doctor.
“Middlesex prepared me very well,” Osorio said. “The professors were great. My professors and the academic advisors really got me on the right path.”
Other speakers included Ronald G. Rios, the Middlesex County commissioner director, who told the class they are vital to the prospects of the county.
“The success of Middlesex College and its alumni – that includes all of you now – is intertwined with the success of Middlesex County,” he said.
“The county’s strategic plan and master economic roadmap, known as Destination 2040, recognizes and relies on Middlesex College as a pipeline for the talent that fuels local businesses and will help us achieve our long-term economic development goals. We are committed to expanding career opportunities in the county by attracting, retaining, and supporting the expansion of businesses across a range of industries, including in three key industries: life sciences, food innovation, and technology – specifically electric connected autonomous vehicles.
“It is our hope that all of you, as graduates of Middlesex College, join us in this endeavor. You can become the future of these industries within the county and be leaders that propel the county forward for all those that live and work here,” Rios said.
Dorothy K. Power, chairman of the Middlesex College Board of Trustees, congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments.
“This is a great day for you – where you are, what you have accomplished, and what a wonderful new future is ahead, known or unknown,” she said.
Several weeks ago, the college honored Chambers Award winners. The award, named for the college’s founding president, Frank Chambers, recognizes those graduates who have obtained the highest grade point average.
They include Nayak, as well as the salutatorian Michelle Wojcik of the Fords section of Woodbridge, and Tarek Ahmed of Parlin, Medhavi Anand of the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick, Sanjana Butala of New Brunswick, Margaret Connelly of Woodbridge, Vanessa Guerrero of Perth Amboy, Heather Kainer of the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, Steven Marcucci of Woodbridge, Yuvaraaj Murthy of Highland Park, Victoria Pennix of Edison, Andrew Romanowski of Edison, Julia Weaver of East Brunswick, Dylan Whitfield of Helmetta, Sean Williams of Colonia, and Aidan Woo of Princeton.