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Georgian Court University celebrated its 113th Annual Commencement

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The atmosphere on campus was electric on May 9, when Georgian Court University celebrated its 113th Annual Commencement, marking the graduation of 494 members of the Class of 2024.

Even the clouds and pending rain that moved the program indoors to the Wellness Center couldn’t stop the sunny smiles of graduates and the beaming pride of families and friends who gathered for this momentous day.

The seats were filled during the Baccalaureate Mass at the Dorothy Marron University Chapel, where participants of all faiths participated in an uplifting program of scripture, hymns, and blessings. Executive Director of Mission and Ministry Jeff Schaffer bestowed the first official congratulations as a “celebration of God’s abundant grace – the grace that has brought the Class of 2024 to this joyful day!”  

Monsignor Joseph Rosie, pastor of St. James parish in Red Bank and a trustee of the university, who served as the chief celebrant, told graduates that the seeds for success and the desire for truth have been planted and that now it is time for them to come to fruition: “To go forward and leave their mark in the world for the common good, to bring the world closer together in peace and justice.” 

In GCU tradition, formal graduation ceremonies launched with the bagpipe-led processional around the Apollo Fountain to the Wellness Center. Graduates in full academic regalia walked through the aisles to “Pomp & Circumstance” and were greeted by a standing-room-only audience. The entire program was also live-streamed to satellite locations on campus and viewed by over 2,000 people on YouTube.  

Provost Janice Warner officially opened the undergraduate ceremony: “What a great day to say well done, to celebrate hard work, and to say thank you to those who helped you.”   

President Joseph R. Marbach proclaimed the Class of 2024 “the picture of persistence” and noted that the youngest graduate was 18 and the oldest 56. “You balanced jobs, raised children, juggled finances, or enrolled after military service. Some returned to college after an extended absence, and in a few cases, some took a leap of faith to attend GCU after experiencing homelessness.”

He also thanked this class for their tremendous commitment to service, tackling issues such as world hunger and homelessness and serving as mentors, community builders for Habitat for Humanity, and volunteers to help needy families for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“You are ready to make your mark and to make a difference,” said President Marbach. “I hope that as your time at GCU comes to completion, you feel empowered to shape a more just and compassionate world.”

GCU Board of Trustees Chair Sister Michele Aronica told graduates to be confident that they can meet the challenges ahead. “The values you deepened while here, your character, along with your competency, are gifts you bring with you as you face your future.”

President of the Alumni Association Stephanie Dalton ’94, ’02, added that GCU has provided the tools for success. “Remember, if you ever need those tools sharpened, you are always welcome to ask for help from your fellow alumni,” and now as alumni, we hope you will “share your tools of success with future Georgian Court generations.” 

Undergraduate student speaker Kayla Latendresse spoke about the power of dreams and expressed gratitude for everyone who helped the Class of 2024 along the way, particularly the faculty. “Your work and devotion to the students at GCU do not go unnoticed. Your leadership has impacted our lives as students, and now, graduates. You all are the Disney magic that has helped to make our college dreams a reality.”

Her parting advice for her classmates: “From this day on, we will continue to dream and aspire to accomplish goals that mean so much to us, and that shape our entire lives. Nothing is impossible, but instead, anything we put our minds to is possible if we exemplify courage.”

Commencement speaker, Rodrigo “Rod” Colón, Jr., ’95, ’17, a renowned recruitment, networking, and career coach, shared amusing stories about his life, failures, successes, and GCU’s role in shaping his life path. “GCU wasn’t a place of judgment, but opportunity…the entire community provided the support and guidance that propelled me forward.”  

He explained that success isn’t built in a silo and encouraged graduates to build strong networks and connections and to be authentic leaders. “This allows for open communication and feedback and creates a sense of belonging within the team. True success rises in environments where everyone feels valued and part of something bigger.”

He reinforced that “seeking help isn’t a weakness; it is a testament to strength.” He also emphasized a powerful life lesson: “Embrace the silence, laugh at yourself, and keep moving forward.” During the speech, Colón gave a special message in Spanish that was received with tremendous applause. He concluded by stating, “If you encounter setbacks – GET UP! If you fall down – GET UP! The journey isn’t defined by perfection, but the resilience we show in overcoming our stumbles.”

The honorary degree of Doctor of Business Administration was presented to graduate commencement speaker John E. Harmon, Sr., Founder, President, and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. “I am truly honored and humbled,” said Harmon, who has dedicated his life to advocating for the state’s African American residents and business owners. 

Harmon told graduates, “Your mind is the most powerful resource you have in your possession,” and shared that “Life is simple. It’s people that make it complicated.” He advised them to draw upon their own life experiences to become great leaders and foster success in others. His charge to graduates: “Face tomorrow with a heightened level of confidence, not arrogance. You are leaving Georgian Court with paperwork in your hand that says tell the world, ‘Get Ready, Because I am Coming’ and although my arrival has been pre-announced, I’m not the same person I was yesterday.”

Graduate student speaker Julie Matthew ’23, a recipient of a Master of Education with a specialization in Reading/Literacy, gave a tearful and heartfelt speech that recounted how the university supported her through a family crisis and gave her the strength to keep going.

“My angel of an advisor helped me navigate this terrible time in a way that would not negatively impact all my hard work. Dr. (Denise) Furlong never let me give up on myself, reminding me to have self-compassion, and I am forever grateful for her support.”  

She told graduates to be proud of reaching their goals and reminded them that their accomplishments may “inspire the next generation to set their dreams a little bit higher.” Her parting words focused on never forgetting the Mercy core values. “Always respect your mind and heart. Make choices and actions of integrity. Seek justice and serve with empathy. Follow your heart and celebrate the leader you have become. Lead by example with compassion, and never forget to be compassionate to yourself.”

Several awards and achievements were recognized during the ceremonies:

The 2024 Commencement awarded 325 Bachelor’s Degrees, 159 Master’s Degrees, and 10 Doctorate Degrees from the university’s four schools.

When President Marbach officially conferred the degrees and invested the colors to the graduates, clapping, whistles, cheers, and stomps reverberated throughout the center.

“We are exceptionally proud of you, and all that you have accomplished,” said President Marbach, who explained that fewer than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree, globally only 7 percent hold a college degree, and less than 15 percent of Americans have an advanced degree. During the ceremony, President Marbach also paid special tribute to the first-generation college graduates who made up thirty-five percent of the graduating class.

In closing, President Marbach emphasized that earning a degree alone is no guarantee of success or happiness, although studies correlate the two. “My advice to you is to pursue your passion. Do what you love to do. This, in turn, will inspire you to pursue a lifetime of learning and your ultimate success.”

Aerial view of GCU.

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 Money.com 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.

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.