Skip Navigation

University News

Georgian Court’s 112th Annual Commencement

2023 Commencement

Bright sunshine, broad smiles, and endless joy filled the campus on May 17 as Georgian Court University welcomed nearly 3,000 graduates, families, alumni, and special guests to celebrate the 112th Annual Commencement Ceremony.  In total, 504 degrees were conferred.

The day began with an uplifting Baccalaureate Mass at the Wellness Center led by Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., Msgr. Vince Garland, Msgr. Joseph Rosie and Deacon Jim Knipper ’15, H’17.  Graduating senior Jhelaine Palo served as the Lector and soprano Liana Hollendonner regaled the audience with beautiful hymns under the musical direction of Rob MacReynolds.

The striking melody of the bagpipes marked the traditional procession of graduates around the Apollo Fountain to the outdoor stage cheered on by a field packed with well-wishers on this momentous day.

Dr. Janice Warner, Provost, welcomed the crowd during both ceremonies and Jeffrey Schaffer, Director of Campus Ministry and Mission, led the Invocations.

“You will be changemakers, truth-seekers, and challengers of the status quo. You are ready to make your mark and to make a difference,” GCU President Dr. Joseph R. Marbach said during his welcome address. He told undergraduates, “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.” 

Dr. Marbach’s remarks to graduate students recognized the contributions many have already made in their fields and to their communities, and he called out their uniqueness as a select group. “Less than 15 percent of Americans have an advanced degree. Only one in seven of your fellow citizens have accomplished what you have done… you join a rarified segment of society, and for that, we are exceptionally proud of you, and all that you have accomplished,” he said.

Undergraduate student speaker Giayana Feliciano, who earned a B.A. in Psychology and is the immediate Past President of the Student Government Association Executive Board, gave a heartfelt and tearful address, thanking everyone for making this journey possible. “Georgian Court University instills a sense of strength and pride in its students, reinforcing the fact that we are leaders who are capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to and today, we have proven our supporters were right!” She charged her fellow graduates to continue to grow, learn, excel, and to “Do the very best in everything you undertake and know that you are a winner.” 

Graduate student speaker Jennifer DePietro, who earned an M.S. in Communication & Digital Marketing, spoke about the challenges of going back to school as an adult and how GCU helped make her success possible. “Not all schools would encourage a mom, an employee—the so-called “non-traditional student”—to take a degree. But not all schools are Georgian Court. This special concern for women is not just a line in our mission statement; it is the guiding principle for the work that we do here.” She added, “It was the core principle of compassion, intellectually grown through all of the core values, that drove me to keep pushing forward. And all of us here today are proof of the power of those values and in the value of higher education….I say, where you start out does not dictate where you will end up. You write your own story.”

President Marbach conferred two honorary degrees during commencement. The honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters was presented to undergraduate commencement speaker Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. Dr. Boyle shared amusing but impactful stories about people he has helped and how they continue to change the perspectives of others. He echoed Dr. Martin Luther King’s words telling graduates that GCU is “not a place you come to, it is the place you go from,” and to “go to the margins, not to make a difference, but to be made different and to have your heart altered.” He relayed: “You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude. And in order to do that, you stand at the margins.  Because that is the only way they will get erased.”

The honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree was presented to graduate commencement speaker Carol Stillwell, Owner and President and CEO of Stillwell-Hansen, Inc. a leader in data center infrastructure solutions. Stillwell described her challenges and path to success as a woman without a college degree in the male-dominated construction industry. She talked about the importance of volunteering and supporting organizations and scholarships that improve communities and help women overcome obstacles to achieve success. “I am certain the skills and tools you have developed here at Georgian Court will allow you to navigate it all with gratitude and humility when times are good and strength, courage, and grace when faced with life’s obstacles.” She added, “You can’t have rainbows without the rain. You will certainly have some of both, and in the end, remember this: ‘It is the journey that matters most.’”

Chair of the Board of Trustees Dr. Julia Upton, RSM, congratulated all graduates, telling the undergraduates that GCU “will be on the sidelines to cheer you on or lend a hand in whatever way you need,” and encouraging graduates to “Be open to discoveries, continue to wonder, to probe, to take risks. Keep in your mind and heart those who are less fortunate than you, and search for ways to help them.”

Several achievements and awards by faculty and students were also recognized during the ceremonies. 

  • Six professors attained the rank of Emeriti for at least 10 years of service as full-time faculty. Dr. Kathleen Froriep – Associate Professor Emerita; Dr. Parvathi Murthy – Professor Emerita of Chemistry; Dr. Mary Ann Smorra – Professor Emerita of Education; Dr. Joseph Springer -Professor Emeritus of Psychology; Dr. Claire Gallagher – Professor Emerita of Education; and Dr. Joseph Gower – Professor Emeritus of Theology and Religious Studies.
  • The Virginia Graham ’31 Award for Teaching Excellence: Dr. Sarita Nemani Professor of Mathematics. 
  • The Award for Academic Excellence: Aristides Papoutsakis
  • Kingdon Gould, Jr. Award: Sulyvette Almodovar

Kristen Cladek, M.S.W., ’14, President of the Alumni Board of Directors, also offered greetings to our new graduates during both ceremonies. “Commencement is an event commemorating the transition of life from one stage to the next, but the lessons learned at school, the ones learned in the classroom and outside of it, will serve you for the rest of your lives,” she said. “As a graduate of Georgian Court, you are equipped with the tools for success and will forever be part of the GCU family.”

At the end of the day, 354 Bachelor’s Degrees, 146 Master’s Degrees and 4 Doctorate Degrees were awarded from the university’s four schools. The undergraduate student speaker summed up the day well: “Be proud today of this awesome accomplishment, be grateful that you made it to the end, and be determined to continue to soar; you’ve got this,” said Feliciano. “GO LIONS!”

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.