Congratulations Class of 2016
Some 1,209 graduates received their associate’s degrees and professional certificates in two ceremonies on May 19 at PCCC’s 44th Annual Commencement. Families and friends packed the gymnasium on the Main Campus in Paterson, erupting into cheers when the procession of graduates, faculty, and administrators entered the gym to the strains of the Pomp and Circumstance march.
Congratulating the Class of 2016 and welcoming guests, College President Dr. Steven M. Rose noted that the theme of the commencement ceremony was “Achieving the Dream,” a reference to a nationwide community college initiative to encourage college completion among students. “What could be more important than an educated citizenry,” said Dr. Rose. He told the audience that the U.S. is falling behind internationally in the number of citizens who hold a college degree, but the trend is reversed at PCCC.“ We continue to grow in the number of graduates we turn out.”
Among the graduates were 41 students from Passaic County Technical Institute who, while still in high school, completed the college requirements for their Child Development Associate certificate. “Now you have a recognized credential,” President Rose told them. “You are going to start college ahead of the rest of your cohort.”
The commencement program included a video clip from President Bill Clinton’s May 13 visit to the Main Campus where he was campaigning for his wife, Hillary. Speaking from a podium in the gymnasium to an audience of college and community attendees, Mr. Clinton hailed community colleges for their inclusive, diverse character and grassroots achievements. “Our country would work better if it worked like a community college,” he said, a comment that drew enthusiastic applause from the commencement audience.
Underscoring Mr. Clinton’s points, President Rose gestured to the ceremony backdrop that featured the flags of 42 nations. “These represent the birth nations of members of the Class of 2016,” he explained.
In a brief address, Mr. Harvey Nutter, Chairman of the PCCC Board of Trustees, told the graduates “We wish you the greatest and most successful ventures in your life.”
Representing the Passaic County Board of Freeholders, Deputy Director John Bartlett reminded the graduates that “the most important investment is the one you have made in the education you received here.” Mr. Bartlett also offered two rules to follow for success. “No matter how small a job you are asked to do, give it all you’ve got,” he said. “Do a great job, and that’s how you’ll be remembered.” His second rule is “Never stop networking. You never know who may be the one to help you in the future.”
Graduate Mohamed Abdelghany who delivered the official greetings at the ceremonies told the audience, “Everyone here has a story,” and proceeded to tell his own. Indifferent toward academics in high school, Mohamed expected to attend college on an athletic scholarship. “God had a different plan,” he said. A serious injury redirected his path. Fearing college loan debt, Mohamed studied harder, came to PCCC for a college start, and ended up as a top student who received a full scholarship to Rutgers.
Rasha Shahin, valedictorian at the morning ceremony, emphasized the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve them. An immigrant from Jordan who learned English while pursuing her associate’s degree in Information Technology, Rasha is also the mother of two young children. “I struggled many times between school work and being a mom,” she said. “The struggle didn’t stop me and the years have paid off.”
The audience laughed when Rasha revealed “her little secret” to academic success. In each class, she would look for the students with the highest grades. “I competed with them without their knowledge,” she said. “I surrounded myself with smart individuals that I could learn from.”
Congratulating her fellow graduates “on reaching your target,” Rasha added, “This is not the end. It’s only a new beginning for new goals.” (Click for Rasha's valedictory)
In the evening ceremony, Caytage Oncu, known as Tay, delivered an eloquent, impassioned valedictory that drew a standing ovation at its conclusion. “At times, it’s terrifying to think where the next few years will take us,” he told his fellow graduates, before urging them to stand against the racial, economic, and educational injustices that face society.
“Our greatest hope and strength lies in our universal humanities,” said Tay whose family immigrated from Turkey when he was a child. He thrived on the diversity and cultural exchange he found at PCCC. “In these halls are being planted the seeds of a new America,” he said. The valedictorian praised parents who sacrificed their own dreams for their children, empathized with hardworking families who cannot afford even the low tuition at PCCC, and called for reforming a public school system that fails the most vulnerable youth, those in low-income urban areas.
But Tay’s most vigorous words challenged his fellow graduates to use their newly acquired power to address the inequities of society, especially in cities like Paterson, often belittled and a source of embarrassment to its residents. “I beg and plead with you all,” he said, “use your power to continue and accelerate the important work needed in our communities.” He added, “There are many people who make money, not so many who make change.” (Click for Tay's valedictory)
The invocation and benediction were delivered by Rev. Caffie Risher who is also a professor at PCCC.“As these precious graduates go into the world as dedicated citizens,” she prayed, “may your richest benediction be upon us.”