PARAMUS, N.J. — Bergen Community College held its 50th Commencement Ceremony virtually on Monday night.
More than 10,000 people watched the proceedings on YouTube, which included a graduating class of more than 2,000 students and their families, friends, and interested onlookers from around the world.
While BCC’s graduation ceremony has been traditionally staged at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford in the past 10 years, New Jersey’s largest two-year college was forced to conduct an online ceremony this year given the statewide school closures and stay-at-home orders imposed by Governor Murphy in March on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic.
In true graduation fashion at BCC, the live stream didn’t deter the excitement of the thousands of well-wishers, many of whom shared photos, memories, and videos using #BergenGrad. Following the same course of its in-person ceremony, a lineup of speakers approached the podium dressed in their customary caps and gowns to deliver encouraging remarks. Among them was master of ceremonies, Bergen Interim President Tony Ross; Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III; Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chair Mary Amoroso; Bergen Board of Trustees Chair Gerard L. Carroll; Vice President of Academic Affairs Brock Fisher, Ph.D.; and Grand Marshal Carmen Cruz-Torres. While school was out these past couple of months, Torres, a nursing professor, served as a per diem nurse caring for high-risk obstetric patients and helped conduct screening for Covid-19 at St. Joseph’s Family Health Center.
Cory Booker, who is New Jersey’s first African-American senator, served as the keynote speaker during the nearly three-hour-long ceremony. In his address, Booker poignantly stressed the virtue of patience in-line with the current trying times.
“You are going to do amazing things,” said Booker to the Class of 2020. “But life is not about a destination, it’s about what you bring to the journey, and I hope you bring your power. Your power of love. That’s what this world needs right now. It needs light in darkness.”
Valedictorian Maciej Szajwaj, a nursing student with a 4.0 GPA who served as an emergency medical technician during the current Covid-19 pandemic, expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to have pursued higher learning at BCC and the lessons she takes with her beyond the classroom of resilience and adaptation during these unspeakable times.
“Bergen has provided me and so many other students the opportunity to pursue higher learning in a way many of us never thought possible,” said Szajwaj. “One of my biggest life lessons while on this journey through nursing school is the ability to adapt and be flexible. We have been pushed out of our classroom borders and into our new virtual classrooms based on the comfort of our couch, bedrooms, and kitchen tables."
She continued, “Even though we are not walking across the stage dressed in our graduation cap and gown, the significance and memory of this day will go down in history and be a reminder of the time period in which we lived and of how we came together — all while being six-feet apart.”
But just as good things can be achieved by coming together, the same can be said in departure.
“Bergen became our home. It became our escape. It became our sanctuary when things in our life weren’t going right,” said Student Government President Bernadette Duran. “As much as it hurts to say good-bye to the friends that we’ve made and to the memories we cherish, know that if you want to change the world, you have to leave home.”