BRANCHBURG, NJ - Friends and family gathered around their phones, computers, laptops and tablets on Saturday, June 27, to cheer on Raritan Valley Community College’s 1,100 graduates during the College’s first virtual commencement ceremony.

Held as a YouTube watch party, the ceremony featured student and faculty speeches, video greetings from RVCC’s administration, Board of Trustees members and dignitaries, as well as slides and photos highlighting the graduates.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy served as the commencement speaker and received an honorary degree during the ceremony. In his video message, Murphy said, “You are soon to be declared graduates of RVCC and regardless of where your individual paths will lead, you all will always share this unique and unforgettable starting point together. You’ve already proven that you can roll with whatever life sends your way—and overcome it.”

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He encouraged the graduates to draw inspiration from the great athlete Wilma Rudolph, who overcame life-threatening illnesses as a child and in 1960 became the first American woman to win three track-and-field gold medals at one Olympics event.

Murphy then quoted Rudolph, saying, "Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

“Let that spirit guide you, class of 2020,” added Murphy. “These past several months haven’t been anything like any of us could have anticipated. Some days it felt like we were defeated. But we picked ourselves up, you did, and went on. We were tenacious in our work and I know that together we are going to win again.

“You are each a champion today, and I cannot wait to see how you help us win in the times to come,” he added.

Anabela Cerqueira of Alexandria Township served as the Student Commencement Speaker. “Education is something no one can ever take away from you, and for that we can be profoundly grateful to RVCC,” Cerqueira told the graduates in her video message.

A married mother of two young children, Cerqueira is a native of Portugal who moved to the United States in 2007. Family obligations initially prevented her from attending college. However, Cerqueira enrolled at RVCC in 2017 in the College’s new Occupational Therapy Assistant program. She even took a leadership role at RVCC, serving as secretary for the Student Occupational Therapy Assistant Association. She graduated magna cum laude and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges. She hopes to find employment as an Occupational Therapy Assistant, working with geriatric patients.

Sharing her own personal path to a college degree, Cerqueira said, “I would be lying if I said it was an easy journey. I know many of you can relate. In one way or another, you also had to overcome your own struggles to be here today. To me, it was the many, many sleepless nights where I would finally find some quiet time to dedicate to my studies while my children slept. It was feeling torn between my desire to be there for my family, while also wanting to excel in college. It was the fact that English wasn’t my first language and that my computer skills were close to none. Nonetheless, here at RVCC, I always found all the support I needed to succeed.”

Added Cerqueira, “Congratulations, class of 2020! We did it! Go out and change the world!”

Beryl and Elliot Stetson of Flemington served as Faculty Commencement Speakers. In the couple’s joint video message, Beryl Stetson noted that between the two of them, the husband-and-wife nursing “dynamic duo” has more than 80 years of nursing experience and 41 combined years of teaching future nurses at RVCC.

“We personally have been involved in several historical health crises—HIV, SARS and now COVID-19—in our roles as direct care nurses and now nurse educators,” said Elliot Stetson. Recognizing all of the frontline workers for their hard work during the pandemic, he said, “everyone is a hero. Every time you wash your hands, wear a face covering, use precautions to protect yourself and others - you are heroic,” he continued.

“The lessons learned during these uncertain times can be used for continued growth and success in your personal and work life. This is a new world for all of us,” said Beryl Stetson. “Remember, you are the instrument to your success.”

Professor of Nursing Beryl Stetson, who has been teaching at RVCC for over 24 years, will be retiring from the College in January. A Registered Nurse for 48 years, Beryl Stetson specializes in oncology and maternity nursing. She is certified as a National League for Nursing nurse educator; Oncology Nursing Society chemotherapy and biotherapy nurse; American Nurses Credentialing Center medical/surgical nurse; and Lamaze International childbirth educator and lactation consultant. Stetson has chaired RVCC’s Health Science Education Department and has served on several College committees. She received an A.A.S. in Nursing from Kingsborough Community College, a B.S.N. in Nursing from the College of Staten Island, and an M.S.N. in Nursing from S.U.N.Y. Health Science Center, Brooklyn. A strong believer in lifelong education, Stetson is currently completing research for her EdD.

Associate Professor of Nursing Elliot Stetson, who has been teaching at RVCC for 17 years, is retiring from the College in July. The Navy veteran also served as a comptroller for a Manhattan-based company. A Registered Nurse for 34 years, Stetson specializes in critical care, trauma, and medical oncology. He holds certifications in critical care nursing and medical/surgical nursing. Stetson also has been running blood drives at RVCC for more than six years. Stetson received a B.S.N. in Nursing from Adelphi University and an M.S.N. in Nursing from S.U.N.Y. Health Science Center, Brooklyn.

To watch Raritan Valley Community College’s first virtual commencement ceremony, visit https://virtualgrad.marchingorder.com/raritanval/i/.