U.S. Sen. Cory Booker

PARAMUS, N.J. – As Bergen Community College prepares to host its most global … most social … and most unique commencement ceremony in its history, the institution has secured New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker to provide the keynote address. The virtual ceremony will take place via a live YouTube stream Monday, May 18 at 5:30 p.m.

“Sen. Booker represents an inspirational leader from whom our graduates can aspire to become,” Bergen Board of Trustees Chair Gerard L. Carroll said. “Further, he’s a ‘hometown hero’ for Bergen County, growing up in Harrington Park and graduating from Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan, making his story one that our graduates can relate.”

New Jersey’s first African-American senator, Sen. Booker joined the U.S. Senate in 2013 and has championed equity for all Americans, greater access to healthcare and the protection of the environment, among many other causes. He also sought the Democratic nomination to represent the party in this year’s presidential election. Sen. Booker earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. from The Queen’s College, Oxford and a J.D. from Yale University.

New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis, Ed.D., delivered last year’s keynote address. John W. Davis, Ph.D., of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, provided the College’s first commencement keynote in 1970.

Originally scheduled for MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the institution to cancel its in-person celebration of the class of 2020 and, instead, develop an online ceremony. The event will feature the trappings of a traditional in-person commencement exercise, including remarks from government officials, the reading of graduates’ names and plenty of pomp and circumstance. The online format will also offer certain advantages such as providing family and friends from around the world the opportunity to participate in real-time via social media. Adding a personal touch, graduating students have submitted photos and messages to include as part of the ceremony as well.

The class of 2020 features more than 2,000 candidates for graduation, including valedictorian Maciej Szajwaj – its top student – and Student Government President Bernadette Duran. Both will offer remarks during commencement.

Szajwaj, of Wallington, a nursing student with a 4.0 GPA, stands as Bergen’s valedictorian in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the institution’s direct pipeline to the healthcare sector. More than 1,100 students, including the valedictorian, learn in the institution’s Health Professions Integrated Teaching Center, which features SMART classrooms, dedicated laboratories and a simulation center for labor and delivery, ambulatory pediatrics, emergency room, long term and intensive care.

Duran, of Bergenfield, plans to transfer to Montclair State University or William Paterson University, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in education. While at Bergen, the student government president also participated in the institution’s internationally recognized chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society of two-year colleges.

The class of 2020 features 60 students holding a 4.0 GPA, members of the Turning Point Program for students with intellectual disabilities and two New Jersey All-State Academic Team honorees (Jenna Santacroce, of Saddle Brook, and Erisa Ganellari, of Garfield).

Bergen Interim President Tony Ross, Ed.D., will serve as the master of ceremonies, while Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III and Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chair Mary Amoroso will also provide remarks. Nursing professor Carmen Cruz-Torres, who has recently spent her non-teaching days working as a per diem nurse taking care of high-risk obstetric patients and screening for COVID-19 at St. Joseph’s Family Health Center, will open the ceremony as grand marshal.

To watch commencement 2020, visit youtube.com/bergencommcollege, Bergen.edu or any of the College’s official social media channels on May 18 at 5:30 p.m.

Bergen’s first commencement ceremony took place in 1970. Since its inception, Bergen has grown into the state’s largest community college with approximately 13,000 students taking classes this semester. The College ranks No. 1 in New Jersey for associate degree graduates.

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.

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