By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Georgian Court University’s 106th annual commencement ceremonies saw degrees conferred on a total of 569 graduate and undergraduate students and a significant milestone marked as the first fully coeducational undergraduate class joined the ranks of alumni.
Two days of solemn and celebratory events capped the school year as the two separate commencement ceremonies unfolded in the university’s Wellness Center on May 24 and 25, respectively. Spirits were high as 397 undergraduates and 172 graduate students were recognized for their achievements and urged by speakers – Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, ecumenist and author, and Adam Lowy, founder of Move For Hunger – to head into the future with courage and conviction and an eye to the betterment of humanity.
In his speech, Father Rohr compared graduation to a rite of passage in society, telling graduates that “you have just completed your survival dance,” then urged them not to confuse that with their “sacred dance,” which comes after they experience setbacks that will teach them their true path in life.
“You have to go down to go up; even a bird must do this before it learns to fly,” he said.
GCU president Dr. Joseph Marbach opened the undergrad ceremony by noting the important moment at hand for the Class of 2017.
“Freshman who entered in the fall of 2013,” he said, “will forever be noted as the first fully coeducational class in the Court’s storied and illustrious history.” Their academic achievements reflect the fact that a coeducational student body is the norm and with it, the student experience at GCU “has been changed forever.”
Three hundred ninety-seven bachelor’s degrees were granted to the Class of 2017 in the schools of the arts, education, business and digital media, including those who completed their students in August and December.
Jackson’s Brianna Marrone, president of the Student Government Association Executive Board, delivered the student address. She shared the most important lessons she learned at GCU, those of being present for others, especially when needed and listening “with the intent of understanding.”
A member of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, Marrone reflected on the importance of being present for her grandmother through the older woman’s illness. She called it a defining experience that led her to apply for the GCU nursing program.
Chloe Grady, a member of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, is one of a number of “second generation” graduates in the Class of 2017. Her mother, Susan Stavres Grady, a member of the Class of ‘82, and a veteran art teacher, said GCU gave her daughter the self-confidence “and belief she could do this. She’s going into education, and I’m a little nervous about that, but she’s so well prepared.”
Daniel Hayes, a math and education major, member of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, and student speaker for the graduates earning advanced degrees, shared in a GCU online interview on how the university opened opportunities for him to develop and explore his interests. He noted that he transferred to GCU from Ocean County College after switching majors from engineering to mathematics and how he felt that a career as a math teacher would be more satisfying.
“Georgian Court University became my best option as I received a good scholarship and knew the campus,” said Hayes, whose mother, Crystal, graduated in 2003 with a degree in English and secondary education with a Teacher as a Second Language endorsement, and earned a reading specialist certificate in 2007.
“My time here went so well because my professors helped me every step of the way. I’ve met a number of good friends here, and the university has given me the tools I need to succeed in my career,” he said.
During the undergraduate ceremony, Marbach also conferred two honorary degrees: a doctor of business administration degree to Deacon James J. Knipper ’15, who serves in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, and a doctor of ministry degree to Father Rohr. In addition, at the graduate ceremony, an honorary doctor of Humane Letters was awarded to Mercy Sister Barbara A. Williams, ‘63, for her dedication to the call of Mercy and her service to Georgian Court for more than 55 years including 20 as president. She currently serves as an archivist and assistant librarian for science and mathematics at the university.
At the Graduate ceremony, nearly 50 percent of those receiving advanced degrees represented the School of Education. Degrees were also granted in six fields in the schools of the Arts and Sciences and the School of Business and Digital Media.
Lowy, a resident of Monmouth County, received an honorary degree of doctor of public service. In his commencement address, Lowy shared how he took a leap of faith, using his background with the family moving business to start a nonprofit at the age of 23 that harvests and recycles food moving families would otherwise have discarded.
Daniel Beach, who received a master’s degree in business administration, encouraged his fellow classmates to think differently. “We have invested time; money and most importantly, ourselves,” Beach said.
“By continuing to see things differently, we will ensure that we stand out.”