It was a historic occasion for Middlesex College: Thursday, May 20 saw the largest class in its history graduate, and the first under its new name, Middlesex College. Formerly known as Middlesex County College, the two-year institution changed its name in January, and this is the first class whose diplomas will use the new term. The record number of graduates – 1871 – eclipses the previous record of 1,592 in 2020. The ceremony was held virtually because of the pandemic.
Richa Nayak, who is double majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics, was the valedictorian and gave the class welcome. She is planning to transfer to Rutgers University and major in Computer Science. Ms. Nayak acknowledged the challenges of attending class during a pandemic but said the experience made the class stronger. “We have persevered and grown through these challenging times to find our way to success,” she said. “I feel proud to be a part of this bold, persistent and victorious class.”
She also thanked friends and families for their role in the graduates’ success. “While we celebrate our accomplishments, we couldn’t have done it alone,” she said. “I would like to thank every parent, for teaching us to get back up whenever we fall down in life. I would like to thank those friends who call to wake you up in time for class, who get you a box of tissues when you burst into tears at college, and who drive you around because you don’t have your license yet. These two years would not have been possible without you. Most importantly, I’d like to thank each and every professor for imparting knowledge in us. That is the real achievement today. Thank you, Dr. Steven Zale, for teaching me to challenge myself to find the best possible algorithm. Thank you, Professor Celia Winchester – who was the reason I was able to write a speech today – for motivating me to advocate for mental health awareness. Thank you, Professors Clarie Vassiliadis and Cristobal Espinoza, for your support and encouragement along the way.”
The ceremony also featured a speech by the 2021 Alumna of the year, Kathleen Morgan, of the class of 1985, chair of Family & Community Health Sciences at the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
“A few years ago, you made a choice to come to Middlesex College,” she said. “Some of you might have come here right from high school, while others may have had a job and wanted to determine what advantages a college degree would provide. Many of you most likely had a job and school, or a family and school. It also might not have been an easy path for you financially. I understand. By your sheer determination, you are graduating today!” She urged the class to take advantage of the education they received at Middlesex College as they prepare for the next phase of their lives. “The degree you receive today will be the key that has the potential to open many doors in your future and your success,” she said. “Your time here at Middlesex College provided a solid academic foundation for you to choose a profession to pursue or to further your education that will allow you to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Other speakers included Ronald G. Rios, the Middlesex County commissioner director, who told the class they are vital to the prospects of the County. “The success of Middlesex College and its alumni – that includes all of you now – is intertwined with the success of Middlesex County,” he said. “The County’s strategic plan and master economic roadmap, known as Destination 2040, recognizes and relies on Middlesex College as a pipeline for the talent that fuels local businesses and will help us achieve our long-term economic development goals. We are committed to expanding career opportunities in the County by attracting, retaining, and supporting the expansion of businesses across a range of industries, including in three key industries: life sciences, food innovation, and technology – specifically electric connected autonomous vehicles. It is our hope that all of you, as graduates of Middlesex College, join us in this endeavor. You can become the future of these industries within the County and be leaders that propel the County forward for all those that live and work here.”
Dorothy K. Power, chairman of the College Board of Trustees, congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments. “This is a great day for you – where you are, what you have accomplished, and what a wonderful new future is ahead, known or unknown,” she said. College President Mark McCormick said that despite facing difficult obstacles, the class of 2021 persevered.
“I want to acknowledge that this past year has been extremely challenging for you and for all of us who work at the College as everyone continues to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “My hat is off to each one of you for your courage resilience, and determination. We would of course prefer to be celebrating with you in person. I miss seeing all of your smiling faces as I deliver these remarks. I hope that as you look back on your time at Middlesex College, you are able to see beyond what you may be missing right now and remember all that you have experienced and learned. This pandemic will pass, but what you have gained from your time at Middlesex College will be with you for life.”
Several weeks earlier, the College honored Chambers Award winners. The award, named for the College’s founding president, Frank Chambers, recognizes those graduates who have obtained the highest grade point average. They include Ms. Nayak, as well as the salutatorian, Michelle Wojcik, and Tarek Ahmed, Medhavi Anand, Sanjana Butala, Margaret Connelly, Vanessa Guerrero, Heather Kainer, Steven Marcucci, Yuvaraaj Murthy, Victoria Pennix, Andrew Romanowski, Julia Weaver, Dylan Whitfield, Sean Williams, and Aidan Woo.