PARAMUS, N.J. – Bergen Community College celebrated the most resilient graduates in its history during a live stream virtual commencement ceremony May 13. President Eric M. Friedman presided over the ceremony - his first as the College’s president - that recognized nearly 2,800 students.
“Commencement marks the most important day of the academic year, providing an opportunity for the College to recognize our graduates’ success,” he said. “While this always represents a special occasion, it’s particularly exciting for the class of 2021 due to the extraordinary circumstances they’ve overcome during the past two years to reach this day.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students graduating as part of the class of 2021 have not taken an in-person class since March of last year when the College pivoted to remote operations. Others, specifically those in health professions programs, followed a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols (such as wearing masks, submitting to daily thermal temperature screenings and practicing physical distancing) to complete on-campus coursework mandated by accrediting agencies.
Additionally, and for the second consecutive year, the pandemic forced the institution to forgo its traditional commencement celebration, which had taken place at MetLife Stadium since 2016, and tape the event on a closed set in the institution’s Anna Maria Ciccone Theatre.
The top student in the graduating class, valedictorian Crystal Yoo, encouraged her peers to mind what they have learned.
“As your valedictorian, I stand here today celebrating all of our victories,” she said. “For me, there was a time when I felt that I would never be able to go back to school. Once I was able to, I realized that all my past experiences and hardships paved the way for me to make a mark on at Bergen Community College. All of us have our personal challenges yet, here we are, leaders in our own ways.”
Graduates Genesis Capellan sang the National Anthem and Student Government Association President Laila Metwaly closed the ceremony by leading her peers in turning their tassels.
The class of 2021 featured high school students from Cliffside Park, Garfield, North Arlington and eight others earning degrees as part of the College’s early college program, members of the Turning Point Program for students with intellectual disabilities and members of the College’s world-renowned Alpha Epsilon Phi chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society of two-year colleges.
Lynn Tincher-Ladner, Ph.D., the president and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa International, delivered the keynote address. She told the graduates, “We found out that you are more resilient than we ever realized. You adapted, and you thrived. And having the year 2021 stamped on your degree speaks volumes of who you are, and what kind of worker you will be.”
As president and CEO of PTK, an organization with 1,285 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, U.S. territorial possessions and ten sovereign nations and more than 3.5 million inductees since its founding in 1918, Tincher-Ladner has prioritized removing barriers to higher education. She earned a Ph.D. in community college leadership from Mississippi State University and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III and Bergen County Board of Commissioners Chair Steve Tanelli also provided remarks at commencement 2021. Retiring professor Lynda Box, Ph.D., opened the ceremony as grand marshal.
To watch the event, visit youtube.com/bergencommcollege.Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.