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151st Commencement Held at Bloomfield College of Montclair State University

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Bloomfield College of Montclair State University welcomed more than 2,000 students, faculty, staff, family and friends onto its campus grounds for the College’s 151st Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 18. The Class of 2024 made its way along Liberty Street for the procession, accompanied by the Malcolm X Shabazz High School Platinum Funk Squad Drumline.

While the majority of the 265 eligible graduates filed into the cover of an expansive tent on the College Quadrangle, the crowd cheered and some shed tears as many were among those whose high school graduations were canceled four years ago by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over these last several years, we have navigated a roller coaster of events and persevered during a time of great difficulty. BUT, guess what? You made it!” Chancellor Marcheta P. Evans, who is departing later in June for the presidency at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, exclaimed to the graduates. “The road to today has not been without bumps and significant hurdles along the way that you had to navigate to accomplish your dreams of becoming a college graduate, or earning your next level degree – but in spite of it all, again I say, you did it. How proud you must feel!”

Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell told the graduates “Yes, you had an image in your mind of walking across that stage…what made it happen was the perseverance to get through the obstacles, the challenges, and you, of course, faced challenges that no other group before you faced. And so you didn’t expect a pandemic. You didn’t expect to have your high school graduation on Zoom or for that matter the first year of college on Zoom, so I actually feel really confident given what you’ve accomplished, that you have the ability to make our communities stronger, healthier, more fair, that you have the ability to improve our country to make it more prosperous, not just for some people, but for everybody, that you have the ability to create a world that is more just, more peaceful, more joyful.”

row of graduates in red caps and gowns smiling for the camera

Members of the Class of 2024 represent much of the State of New Jersey, including 18 of the 21 counties, and seven other states as well as students with citizenship in or originating from 17 countries. It also includes both traditional students and adult students, and nearly 50% are first-generation, the first in their families to attend college.

Interim Dean of Bloomfield College of Montclair State University Tammy Castro acknowledged eight students who returned to college after a hiatus to finish what they started years ago through the College’s degree completion program. “These individuals were among the nearly 1 million in New Jersey and over 40 million people in the U.S. – yes, 40 million – who had started a college degree but had not completed and earned a credential.”

Castro also recognized the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award winner, Associate Professor of History Harry Franqui-Rivera, and introduced the Class of 2024 valedictorian and salutatorian.

Valedictorian Leslie Yuqui, a first-generation college student, earned a BS in Mathematics and a BA in Psychology, and Salutatorian Lisa Ruiz, clinical placement coordinator in the Frances M. McLaughlin Division of Nursing, took one or two classes a semester for 11 years in order to earn a BA in English at age 63.

Yuqui delivered a part of her speech in Spanish, as a dedication to her parents for their guidance and support, and noted that the struggles and challenges the Class of 2024 overcame to graduate have made them stronger.

nursing graduates smiling at commencement

“I know that each and every one of us has the potential to achieve great things. We are a generation of problem-solvers, innovators and dreamers, and I am confident that we will go out to the real world and inspire others.”

Ruiz, who worked full time while raising a family and opened a restaurant before earning her degree, told her fellow graduates that “life’s hurdles need not impede our dreams. If anything they serve as catalysts for growth and resilience. My journey is a testament to the power of seizing opportunities and embracing challenges and refusing to let circumstances dictate our path,” she said. “Embrace every opportunity, pursue your passions relentlessly, and never underestimate the power of perseverance.”

A new tradition was established to reveal the graduating senior who served as Deacon the Bear, the College mascot, during his time as an Admissions Office Storyteller Ambassador. As a part of the special reveal, this year’s secret mascot, Chatod Henderson ’24, wore Deacon’s gloves (bear hands) during the entirety of the Commencement exercises.

During the recessional at the end of the ceremony, the graduates processed out to the Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” as many were met with tears, smiles, hugs, flowers and gifts from family and friends on the College Quad and Liberty Street.

View Commencement Livestream and Photos