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Convocation 2023: A Foundation of Community


Convocation, a formal ceremony that opens each academic year, sets the tone for a year of compassion, service, justice, integrity, and respect. For continuing students, it is a chance to be recognized for their achievements and reaffirm these values. For incoming students, it is a chance to look toward a future of success and faith.

Provost Janice Warner, Ph.D., affirmed that at Georgian Court, “relationships matter.” She encouraged students to connect with their faculty, advisors, staff, and each other to learn about different career paths and form their own ambitions.

President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D., asserted that while the university’s responsibility is to serve the community through education, it is the students’ responsibility to “demand a high-quality education.” An education backed by the Mercy core values, he determined, is what makes Georgian Court excellent.

Selected as the recipient of the Virginia Graham ’31 Award for Teaching Excellence for 2023, Dr. Sarita Nemani, Ph.D., gave the keynote address, beginning by tasking the audience with a math problem. Just as students in the audience worked with Dr. Nemani to solve the math problem, she declared that successful learning results from teamwork between a teacher and a student.

“Share your knowledge with the world,” Dr. Nemani encouraged the students. “This will create happiness within us and around us,” she said, alluding to the happiness she experiences when sharing her own knowledge with her students.

Not only is Convocation the ceremonious beginning of the academic year, but it is also an opportunity to recognize students’ success throughout the schools. Dean Mary Chinery for the School of Arts and Sciences, Dean Jennifer Edmonds for the School of Business and Digital Media, Dean Kelly McNeal for the School of Education, and Dean Teresa Wurmser for the Hackensack Meridian Health School of Nursing & Wellness at GCU all presented student awards that highlighted achievement, global awareness, leadership, service, and professionalism. Dean of Students Sharmay Wood also presented the Saint Catharine Medal for student achievement.

Student Government Association Executive Board President Hannah Hale led the student body in a pledge to uphold the Mercy core values.

Hannah introduced guest speaker Iveliz Crespo, who earned their Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from GCU in 2011. Iveliz is the Senior Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisor for Reed Smith LLP, and in their early years in law, advocated on behalf of migrant farmworkers and LGBT clients, representing them in civil rights, human trafficking, and employment law matters.

Iveliz emphasized the importance of lifting others as a leader. When they arrived at Georgian Court, they were determined to break barriers for themself and future generations. Addressing current GCU students, Iveliz said, “Never underestimate the power of your own story. Your unique experiences and backgrounds are your greatest assets.”

Iveliz then reminded students that once they succeed, it is important to give back to the community that helped them thrive.

Each year, during the Convocation ceremony, a flag with the incoming class’s graduation year is presented by the Alumni Association to a first year student. Four years later, at Commencement, the class flag is returned to the Alumni Association, representing the newest alumni of Georgian Court. This year, Iveliz passed the flag to Justin Agyare-Nkansah, who accepted it on behalf of the Class of 2027.

Amy Cerreta, Campus Minister, and Jeff Schaffer, Interim Director of Mission and Ministry, blessed the new students and faculty. He distributed Mission Field Guide booklets for students to “help them find their path” and connect students to the Mercy vision.

Convocation 2023 united Georgian Court around the shared goal of academic and personal excellence, reminding students and faculty alike that success starts with community.

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About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has 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 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 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 make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is 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 through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.