Middlesex College’s 55th Commencement ceremony marked the first time since 2019 that college leadership, faculty, staff and distinguished guests joined students and families in person, under one roof, to participate in the most important day of the academic year.
The entire Middlesex College community came together at Jersey Mike’s Arena at the Rutgers University campus in Piscataway on May 19 to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2022.
The college awarded 1,633 degrees and certificates to 1,600 students, who wore eco-friendly caps and gowns made entirely from post-consumer plastic bottles. Named GreenWeaver and manufactured by Oak Hall, the fabric is made from spun molten plastic pellets, with each gown requiring an average of 25 bottles, according to a statement provided by the college. Approximately 800 graduates participated in the exercises, so roughly 20,000 bottles were saved from landfills and the oceans.
Valedictorian Kimberly Christina Garcia delivered the class welcome. She spoke of having been incarcerated after making poor decisions.
“When I returned home at the age of 20, I was no longer just living for myself but also for my son, and although I wasn’t sure what I wanted my future to hold, I knew I wanted to change my life around,” she said.
Garcia enrolled at Middlesex College, and majored in psychology because she wanted to help people. She also joined the Juvenile-Justice Reform Club.
“I was welcomed with no judgment and I found a group of people who actually cared about the many issues I was facing,” she said. “I knew I had found a home away from home. It was then that I grew the courage to tell my story, in hopes of reaching others in those critical spaces. I began mentoring eight youths who were detained at a local juvenile detention center. It’s crazy to look back and see that I was able to help people who are currently detained in the same facility that I was once held in. From this experience, not only was I able to help those behind bars and be a voice for them, but I also found my voice and my ability to advocate for myself and others.”
She called her education at Middlesex College “exceptional.”
“To my fellow graduates, I have no doubt in my mind that you all will achieve glorious things; however, never forget that this fight, the fight for equality, is one that is ongoing,” she said. “To my professors, continue to encourage your students to follow their dreams while also being their voice when they’re not being heard. To the administration, staff, and everyone else whose hand played a role in my education, continue to be that bridge for students, continue to fight for accessible education, but most importantly, listen to your students’ needs, as many of us depend on you to make it through.”
She received a standing ovation from her classmates and the crowd, according to the statement.
The ceremony also featured remarks by the 2022 Alumnus of the Year, Keith Menscher ’16, who went on to become a lawyer and is now an associate at McManimon, Scotland & Baumann in Roseland.
“Age does not matter, origins do not matter. Each of you are capable of anything you set your minds to, and with dedication, determination and discipline, there is no task, no goal, no milestone that each of you cannot reach. By being here today, you have already proven to yourself, whether you realize it or not, that you are capable of success,” Menscher said.
Other speakers included Middlesex County Commissioner Director Ronald G. Rios, who praised the graduates for persevering during the pandemic and urged them to stay active in their community.
“I hope, too, that as you move forward with your life, you will challenge yourself to volunteer for a cause such as helping seniors, the disabled, the homeless, emergency services, or our veterans – any cause that is close to your heart,” he said. “In today’s society, volunteers are in short supply and there are so many – especially our veterans – who can be helped by even a few hours each week or month. By volunteering your time, you will be helping more than just one person – you will be helping your entire community. It may be challenging to find time to volunteer, but I ask that you try your best to do so. Rest assured, whatever time you are able to dedicate to helping others will be worth the sacrifice.
Mark Finkelstein, vice chair of the Middlesex College Board of Trustees, congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments.
“Not only did you complete a rigorous curriculum at a superb school of higher learning, but you were able to complete your studies during the height of a global pandemic, when the college was forced to close its physical doors to you,” he said. “Between having to study remotely and often only interacting with your professors and classmates online, you were faced with unprecedented challenges that were truly unique to you, compared to the generations of Middlesex College graduates before you.
“But that is what makes the Class of ’22 so special. You directly faced adversity and did not allow it to deter you from your dreams of earning a college degree. You faced unprecedented stress, far beyond what should be expected of a college student. And, again, it did not deter you from following that all-important dream. You are strong, you are determined. And you are an inspiration to many others who are deciding if a college education is feasible.”
College President Mark McCormick spoke of Commencement as the time the college – faculty, staff, trustees, and administrators – looks forward to all year long to recognize and honor the talent, grit and perseverance of students in achieving their educational goals.
“There were likely many times that you thought you might never make it, but you did. As we are all aware, nothing of any consequence comes solely from our own individual efforts. And that is especially true of something as monumental as earning a college degree. When any of us achieves something of greatness, it is almost always because others around us have supported us, encouraged us, and lifted us up. You have undoubtedly benefitted from the guidance, encouragement, and cheerleading of others,” he said.
A week earlier, the college honored Chambers Award winners. The award, named for the college’s founding president, Frank Chambers, recognizes those graduates who have achieved the highest GPA.
The 2022 award recipients are: Fatima Akhtar (Monroe Township), Stephanie V. Belizario (Edison), Myesha Renee Bennett (East Stroudsburg, PA), Izabella N. Burzynski (Dayton), Shelby Collins (East Brunswick), John Joseph Cowhig (Keasbey), Thomas Emens (Jamesburg), Kirsten D. Francisco (South Amboy), Kimberly Christina Garcia (Middlesex Borough), Maria Cristeli Gomez de Marte (Milltown), Evy Maria Guzman (Piscataway), Jessica Marie Hochadel (Jamesburg), Amy Lin (Edison), Ana Filipa Martelo (Sayreveille), Rafaela Sofia Martelo (Sayreville), Pavitra Patel (Edison), Beshoy Emad Rezk (Piscataway), Kristine Rodriguez (Edison), Brian Alonso Ruiz (Woodbridge), Kathleen Sabo (Sayreville), Kevin M. Schell (Basking Ridge), Sparsh Amit Shah (Edison), Parth Akshay Sheth (Kendall Park), Jennifer Smith Mullen (Highland Park), Marie Christine Tender (New Brunswick), Caitlyn Testa (Jackson), Sara Umar (Jamesburg), Alfredo Velasco Olivares (New Brunswick), Snezhana Veselkova (Sayreville), and Isha Warra (Iselin).
- This information was provided by Middlesex College.