Students rushed to check-in while parents took their last photos before seeing them cross the stage. Master and doctoral students attended the Graduate School Commencement on Jan. 14 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Lined up in order of their programs, students chatted with classmates. Some were nervous about what the future holds while others were just excited to be done with college.
Florida resident and transfer student Matthew Edward Nunes received his M.A. in Performance. He knew that he wanted to come to Montclair State University because the program was much stronger here. Despite receiving his degree in three years, Nunes said it was worth it and feels confident about his future.
Chyi June Khoo, a 30-year-old graduate student, is an international student that came to the U.S. in hopes of finding a career and building a future in this country.
“I am very excited to start working within the music therapy field and helping children through music,” Khoo said.
Students started walking into the arena, and the processional began once they were seated.
Evan Fleming, an undergraduate student studying music education, sung the national anthem. Loud roars and thunderous cheers consumed the arena, showing that it was a moment of pride for parents and students along with the educators, mentors and board of trustees.
“What you will carry of value with you from this place today is not a piece of paper attesting to your degree,” President Susan Cole said in her speech to the graduates. “But rather the potential and some of the powerful tools that you will need to live the kind of life that contributes to the shaping of the world. This afternoon we honor your achievements and celebrate with you, but we urge you to remember that your hard work was not just for this today. The purpose of it all extends well into the future, and we will all be watching to see where your journey takes you.”
Chair and board of trustees member George Hiltzik gave the conferment of the honorary degree and told the audience to look at the screen.
“I’m supposed to point,” Hiltzik said, causing the audience to giggle. The video played, and the crowd heard a voice saying that she credits her longevity to vitamin C and a bit of hostility. The audience’s attention was immediately captured before the face of the voice walked out.
New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, honorary degree recipient and keynote speaker, joined Cole and Hiltzik on stage.
“You have been a powerful role model to all who would serve the betterment of society,” Cole said. “You have demonstrated through your own determination and persistence that no person has to let themselves be written off whether for gender, race or age or ethnicity or any human characteristics.”
The audience celebrated Weinberg’s achievements, and she responded with a fist in the air.
Weinberg addressed the students and pointed to her family. She noted that they can call her “Dr. Senator” from now on. Weinberg then urged the graduates to be informed, involved and to take an interest in all things political.
“Be careful of accepting a new normal,” Weinberg said. “Coarse language, racism, sexism and misogyny are not normal. They are the old aberrations.”
She continued by saying that it is comforting to receive this honorary degree because she has regularly been practicing law, medicine and engineering in the state legislature without benefit of licensing or an advanced degree.
“Now I’m legitimate, and I can be even more of a pain in the butt to the legislature,” Weinberg said with a smile to the audience as she turned around to look at her colleagues.
Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson of the 37th Legislative District attended the commencement in support of Weinberg.
“She is a true leader in the state legislature, her doctorate is well deserved,” Johnson said. “I would like to congratulate all, and may your futures be bright.”
The doctoral and master students walked across the stage, were hooded by chosen faculty members and shook the hand of the president of the university.
One student shimmied with joy as a faculty member hooded her. Afterward, she turned around to give her professor a big hug.
Cole ended the ceremony by wishing luck and success to all of the professionals. She reminded them to never settle for less and to go after what they want in life.