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Advice to the Graduates: Build a Life with Purpose, Passion, and Relationships

graduate receives diploma

Each of the students in Georgian Court University’s Class of 2019 has a designated purpose, and it’s their job to put it to work, according to Justice Anne M. Patterson, who offered advice to the graduates in the GCU’s Commencement Ceremony. The event followed GCU’s annual Baccalaureate Mass, held earlier in the day.

“What can you do to be ready for your unique contribution to the world, your distinctive accomplishment that belongs to no one else?” the New Jersey Supreme Court associate justice, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the event, said to a standing-room-only crowd at the outdoor ceremony. “You have already proven that you are not afraid of hard work.

“Whether you go on to further study or land that first job,” she advised, “please do not hesitate to take on the tasks that seem too difficult or time-consuming, the assignments that send everyone else running for cover. You take them on—because you will learn a valuable lesson from each of them.”

Justice Patterson joined Georgian Court President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D., in saluting more than 600 students who participated in the joint bachelor’s and master’s degrees ceremony. Other speakers included Kacie Mandella ’19, a Manchester resident, psychology major, and Student Government Association Executive Board president; as well as additional honorary degree recipients Brian Gragnolati, FACHE, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System; and Michael A. Pontoriero, M.D., a deacon at Saint Thomas More Church and senior partner/vice president of the Cardiovascular Care Group.

An estimated 4,000 people attended graduation, including supporters who traveled from as far away as Spain, Japan, and Peru to celebrate in person. Hundreds more across the United States, India, South Africa, Italy and beyond watched via streaming video and Facebook Live.


Dad John Barrett, a master’s candidate, and daughter Meghan graduated together. She is headed for a career in education. / Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC
Dad John Barrett, a master’s candidate, and daughter Megan graduated together. She is headed for a career in education. / Russ DeSantis Photography and Video, LLC

Passion and Purpose Critical to Future Success

Among the graduates were a father and daughter earning diplomas, a business major headed to Disney World (to work), a 19-year-old who finished college in three years, and a veteran Navy parachute rigger finishing at age 63.

“Realize that earning a college degree is no guarantee of success or happiness,” Georgian Court President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D., advised. “Statistics certainly show a correlation between the two, but success and happiness can be defined in many ways,” he said. “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.”

President Marbach also noted that 45 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees in GCU’s graduating class were first-generation college students. Being the first in their families to earn a college degree marks a meaningful investment that will pay dividends—not just for their careers, but one day for their children and future family members, too.

Beyond Passion, Principles to Live By

GCU Board of Trustees Chair Robert E. Mulcahy III, a longtime public servant, encouraged the class to push past superficial measures of success.

“You, like none before you, are bombarded by thoughts, challenges, and images masquerading as insight on social media and the instant communications wonders of this age,” he said. “The timeless truths at the core of the Georgian Court experience are your pathways to a successful life.”

Mr. Mulcahy offered five principles to remember.

“First and foremost, faith in God is your path to a complete and peaceful life. Two, have confidence in yourself. Three, take prudent risks; be not afraid, pick a mentor, and ask for advice along the way,” he offered.

“Fourth, civility and discourse: Let those who have ears hear. Set ego aside. Listen. Our world desperately needs intelligent discourse,” he said.

And his fifth point of advice? “Respect the plight of the marginalized as in the beatitudes,” he said, referencing the blessings taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “You can never forget your responsibility nor the responsibility of society.”

Commencement 2019: A Time for Honors

The most popular undergraduate degrees were awarded in psychology and nursing while the most popular graduate degree was the M.A. in Administration and Leadership for education leaders. The ceremony also included several awards.

Outstanding students Nico L. DeAngelo, Aviva M. Tarlow, and Matthew R. Keneipp received top honors for academic excellence. Business major Arturo Sanchez, a standout soccer and lacrosse athlete who plans to pursue a criminal justice career, landed the Kingdon Gould Jr. Award. It is given to a graduating senior who, in the opinion of fellow classmates, has contributed the most to the general welfare of Georgian Court.

Johann Vento, Ph.D., a professor of theology/religious studies, received the university’s highest teaching honor—the Virginia Graham ’31 Award for Teaching Excellence. The honor is given to a faculty member who demonstrates outstanding leadership, teaching, and mentoring skills and a strong commitment to inspiring and helping students.

In addition, GCU awarded emeriti status to retiring faculty members Mary R. Basso ’67, ’94, associate librarian, humanities; Constance Chismar, Ed.D., ’72, professor of English education; Joseph E. Colford III, Ph.D., professor of psychology; Linda James, Ph.D., professor of psychology; and Michael Tirpak, Ph.D., associate professor of education.

Kacie Mandella, in her parting words to the class, encouraged the graduates to remember what made their time at Georgian Court special.

“Remember the person who helped you grow in college, or the person who really wanted to see you succeed and would stop at nothing to make sure you made it to this day,” she said. “That’s what I want you to remember about your time here—not the hard work, not the long days, not all of the homework, tests, and papers, but the people who stood behind you and pushed you toward success every step of the way.

“Life is unpredictable,” she said. “We don’t know where we will be in 5 or even 10 years from now. But we do know that no matter what, no matter where our journey takes us, we know that what we gained from Georgian Court will always be with us.”

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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