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Great Advice for GCU Graduates at Commencement 2018: “Make Your World a Better Place”


Elisabeth Fontenelli, retired Goldman Sachs executive and former Georgian Court University trustee, was the speaker for Commencement 2018, GCU’s 107th Commencement Ceremony, on Thursday, May 24, at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River.

Woman making speech.
Elisabeth Fontenelli delivers the Commencement address.

Ms. Fontenelli advised graduates to make their world a better place by focusing on their own surroundings. “Your outer circle, your broader community, where you are a member and have an affinity but where you don’t have personal relationships, can and will be greatly enhanced by your caring,” she said. She talked about her challenges while working in a male- and profit-dominated industry, where she “fought to be heard and to lead with empathy.”

She also assured the graduates that they could manage whatever life brought, because “love in all forms will be your guide.”

A Time for Honors and Awards

GCU President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D., presented more than 650 master’s and bachelor’s degrees to the Class of 2018 during Commencement 2018. These included August 2017, December 2017, and May 2018 graduates from the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, and the School of Business and Digital Media. The class included students from ages 19 to 64, with the majority of them hailing from New Jersey. Graduates also came from eight other states, and from countries as far away as Australia.

Casey Tumblety reacts to receiving the Kingdon Gould Award. The award is presented to the senior, who, in the opinion of fellow classmates, has contributed the most to the general welfare of Georgian Court University.

It was also a big day for three honorary degree recipients. President Marbach also presented Doctor of Business Administration degrees to Ms. Fontenelli and to Jon F. Hanson, founder and chairman of The Hampshire Companies, and a Doctor of Educational Administration degree to Dr. Triantafillos “Tommy” Parlapanides, superintendent of schools for the Central Regional and Seaside Heights school districts.

Student awards went to Tara Vitale, who received the Award for Academic Excellence and to Casey Tumblety, who received the Kingdon Gould Jr. Award.

In addition, GCU School of Education professor Claire Gallagher, Ed.D., received the Virginia Graham ’31 Award for Teaching Excellence. The longtime educator is also an architect and expert on school design and learning communities.

Mercy Values—For Leadership and for Life

President Marbach also had a message for graduates to remember when times get tough. “The Mercy values are our infallible guide when life gets challenging: respect, integrity, service, justice, and compassion,” he said, referring to the values espoused by the Sisters of Mercy, GCU’s founding congregation.

Graduate making speech.
Olivia Zitarosa, president of the SGA Executive Board, delivers remarks on behalf of the students.

Olivia Zitarosa, president of the Student Government Association Executive Board, also shared the greatest lessons that Georgian Court University has taught her: “to keep our eyes open to opportunities and to say ‘yes’ to them, because you never know just how life-changing they can be.”

She also had parting advice for the Class of 2018. “Wherever you go, whatever you end up doing,” she said, “keep your eyes open for opportunities. Listen to what’s going on around you, and don’t be quick to say no. You never know where the road will lead.”

In closing Commencement 2018, President Marbach offered a few practical thoughts. Along with their diploma, Dr. Marbach handed each graduate an index card with nine simple rules of financial advice written by author and University of Chicago business professor, Harold Pollack.

Dr. Marbach asked the graduates to think about two things: their future and financial security, so they might be inspired to “remember GCU and pay it forward as faithful alumni, and always live our Mercy core values.”

Commencement 2018: A Two-Day Celebration

Two male graduates in cap and gown smiling in front of GCU apollo fountain.
Graduates David Schenck and Tyler Chamra celebrate at the Apollo Fountain during a pre-Commencement celebration on May 23.

Commencement 2018 began a day earlier on Wednesday, May 23, with an afternoon of events on GCU’s historic campus, including a formal Academic Procession through the campus, during which Ms. Zitarosa planted ivy at the base of The Eagle statue, a long-standing GCU tradition. Graduates, families and guests, and GCU staff and faculty crowded the Wellness Center Arena for a Baccalaureate Mass, with a homily delivered by Reverend Monsignor R. Vincent Gartland, GCU trustee. He reminded the graduates to take the words of St. Paul to heart and “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.

“Love as you have been loved; give in abundance from what you have received,” he added. “Make a difference in your communities, families, churches, places of worship, and work.”

The Mass was followed by an Academic Awards and Certificate Ceremony, which recognized nearly 60 undergraduate students with departmental awards and recognition for leadership and other service to the university. Hundreds of guests enjoyed the beautiful GCU campus during the outdoor reception that followed.

Visit for links to speeches, videos, and high-resolution photos of the events.

Story contributed by freelance writer Michele Hujber, APR. Photos by Russ DeSantis.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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