BRANCHBURG, NJ - Raritan Valley Community College awarded associate degrees and certificates to more than 1,300 graduates at its commencement, Saturday, May 12, including Somerville resident Barbara Kania, an Honors College student who introduced commencement speaker Judge Paul W. Armstrong.

Kania is a Pre-Medical Professional major who is the founder and president of RVCC’s Pre-Medicine Club, as well as an EMT in Somerville. She is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and a Galileo Scholar, and was selected as one of the first group of students to participate in the Sanofi Corporate Mentorship Program.

Kania is graduating from RVCC Summa Cum Laude and has been accepted at Boston University and Rutgers University. Her eventual goal is to become a physician.

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Armstrong , a nationally recognized pioneer of patients’ rights, also received an honorary degree during the ceremony.

The program featured RVCC student commencement speaker Randall S. Petronko of Flemington, a disabled US Navy Veteran. Petronko signed up for the military while he was still in high school, but did not leave for boot camp until right after 9/11. His ship, the U.S.S. Tarawa, was deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2003, prior to and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After cancer derailed his military career, Petronko decided to enroll at RVCC.

On campus, he has been active with Project Healing Waters. A Liberal Arts major and member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Petronko is graduating from RVCC Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA. He will be transferring to Rutgers University in the fall, and eventually continuing to law school.

Deborah Gottesman Corbett of Montclair, Professor of Psychology, delivered the faculty commencement address. Corbett, who is retiring from the College after 42 years, has developed and taught multiple courses in Psychology and was part of the first team-taught class at RVCC, Psychology and Literature.

She received a Princeton Mid-Career Fellowship in 2004. Corbett has chaired the Humanities, Social Science and Education Department and was the Committee of the Faculty’s first chairperson. She was a founding member of the group that developed the College’s Academic Awards Ceremony and oversaw it for 22 years. She also helped create the Prison Program and coordinated it for seven years, giving people who are incarcerated the opportunity to earn college credits toward a degree. She has a Ph.D. in Psychology from New York University. 

The graduates speaking during commencement included Kania and Sierra Cole of Branchburg. 

Cole, a Communication Studies major, introduced the faculty speaker. Cole is active on campus with RVCC’s United Caribbean Club. The recipient of several prestigious scholarships, Cole also is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and Sigma Chi Eta, the National Communication Association’s official community college honor society. Cole plans to attend Montclair State University in the fall to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She eventually plans to attend graduate school and work in the field of social work, social justice, or public affairs.

Armstrong served as a New Jersey Superior Court Judge from 2000-2017. He was assigned to courthouses in Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties in the Civil, Criminal and Family Divisions, as well as the Morris County Historic Courthouse. He also served as the inaugural Drug Court Judge in both Somerset and Hunterdon counties. Among his many well known cases, Judge Armstrong presided over the case of State of New Jersey v. Charles Cullen, the convicted nurse serial-killer.

As a member of the bar, Judge Armstrong was a pioneer of patients' rights and argued before the Supreme Court of New Jersey in In Re Quinlan and Matter of Jobes as counsel to the families of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Ellen Jobes. In cases before the United States Supreme Court,

He served as initial counsel, trustee and incorporator of the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice as well as the New Jersey Hospice Organization.

He also served as chairman of both the New Jersey Bioethics Commission and The Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS, and is a past president of the Samaritan Homeless Interim Program based in Somerville.

A widely published author and photographer, Armstrong holds an M.A. in history from the University of Dayton (Distinguished Alumnus, 1997), a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame, and an LL.M. from the New York University School of Law. An Adjunct Professor at the Rutgers Law School and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Judge Armstrong was Of Counsel to the Bridgewater law firm of Kern, Augustine, Conroy & Shoppmann.