Montclair State conferred 665 degrees to graduate students across various schools and disciplines at the graduate school commencement ceremony in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).
Among the degree recipients on Friday, Jan. 17 was the honorary degree recipient, New Jersey Attorney General, Gubir S. Grewal; the first Sikh-American to hold the position in the United States.
Grewal was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. After having received the honorary degree, Grewal addressed the graduating class.
“As you walk off this stage with your degrees in hand, know that your journeys are just beginning, that you too may encounter obstacles and adversities that you never anticipated,” Grewal said. “But when one door closes for you, don’t ever be afraid to change course and to open another one. Don’t ever be afraid to follow a path you never before considered.”
Anel Gonzales, business administration major and graduate, explained that it was the connections at the university that made her want to continue pursuing her education.
“It [school] was awesome, I made friends that I still talk to and have very good memories [with]. The professors and staff have been very helpful, and I would go back again if I need to,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales is one of the many Montclair State students to receive both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree, a first for members of her family.
“Having a speaker [like Grewal] to talk on diversity gives a lot of new and interesting points of people’s experiences,” Gonzales said. “I am Latina and the first of my siblings to graduate, so I think diversity is very important.”
Janet Dillon-Kowallzic, educational leadership major and graduate, was able to experience a second career in obtaining her degree.
“[I] worked as an EMT and eventually a firefighter with the New York City fire department (FDNY) on the terror attacks of 9/11,” Dillon-Kowallzic said.
It was after having her fifth child that she was inspired to educate herself further.
“[My son] was born with learning disabilities and I decided to go back to school to be able to assist my child and educate myself more,” Dillon-Kowallzic said. “I only had a high school diploma, so I worked through the ropes and got an associate’s, bachelor’s and now my master’s degree.”
Dillon-Kowallzic is a first-generation American and the first to attend college in her family. She honored her immigrant parents by wearing the stoles of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“By wearing these stoles, I am representing my heritage and sending a message that if you really apply yourself, there’s nothing you can’t succeed [in accomplishing],” Dillon-Kowallzic said. “Graduating has been a wonderful experience because I’ve been able to show my children that hard work pays off.”