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Caldwell, N.J., May 24, 2021 – Commencement is always a joyous occasion but this year it was even more meaningful for Caldwell University graduates who celebrated in person on the athletics field or watched via livestream from as far away as Nepal and Uganda.  The graduates relished the triumph of earning their diplomas after having lived through the disruptions of COVID-19.   The university’s 79th annual commencement featured three separate ceremonies.

View Ceremony Recordings and More Photos>

President Matthew Whelan, Ed.D., congratulated the Class of 2021 graduates for their perseverance and resilience in reaching this milestone, saying the one thing everyone has learned from the pandemic is to “expect the unexpected.”

 “Do not underestimate the magnitude of what you have just accomplished, not just now, but throughout your life. To stay the course when the winds and torrential downpours of life, a monstrous storm, threatened to knock you off course, you withstood, you adjusted your sails and you were able to navigate your way through to your final destination.  You’ll learn that you have to do that in life. And it is worth it. Every second is worth it,” said Dr. Whelan.

President Whelan advised the graduates to “Get good at making mistakes…nearly all of the famous success stories tell a tale of countless failures…We all make mistakes. It’s what we do with them that matters…Take responsibility for them. Learn from them and remember you are one mistake away from success.” 

Quoting Nobel Laureate and novelist Toni Morrison, Dr. Whelan said, “Dream before you think.”  If you dream before you think, then you are asking yourself ‘what is possible’ instead of ‘what has been possible’ and in that difference is where you will create change and change for the better.”  And he advised the graduates to remember to “Always be kind … be kind even to those who have not been kind to you.”    At Caldwell University, “our core values–respect, integrity, community and excellence–rely on kindness…keep those values close to you and they will serve you very well no matter where your life’s path takes you.”

Lesley Elaine Chung, West Orange High School assistant principal and dean of students, delivered the graduate ceremony remarks. She praised her fellow graduates for the momentous feat of earning their doctoral and master’s degrees during a year rocked by tragic racial injustice and mounting tensions. She pointed out how many had worked from home, juggling care for children and other family members. “This past school year taught us that we may indeed face trying times … however with hard work and perseverance, nothing can stop us.” She encouraged graduates to go even further in pursuing their career paths. “As the late Kobe Bryant once said, ‘Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.’” The West Orange resident received a Doctor of Education degree in educational leadership with a concentration in K-12 education.

Keith Kirabo Kyewalabye ’21 was the speaker for the two undergraduate ceremonies. Quoting Julius Caesar, he said, “Veni, vidi, vici,” and gave examples of the many ways the graduates lived out that saying, which translates as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” “We have been immersed in our core values of respect, integrity, community and excellence. We conquered!”

Marking the end of college as “truly just a beginning for something new,” Kyewalabye said, “Life, with its ebbs and flows, has given us another starting point just as we crossed the finish line.” He sent his fellow graduates out with a quote from rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar: “If God got us, then we gon’ be alright.” 

A native of Uganda, Kyewalabye earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology with a minor in music and has accepted a position as a junior specialist at the University of California-San Francisco Brain Tumor Research Center.

The University presented an honorary degree to Ujwala Mulgaonkar, M.D., and posthumously to her husband, Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar, for their support of the School of Nursing and Public Health. Ujwala is a retired pediatrician with over 30 years of experience in the medical field. She graduated from Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai, India, and completed her residency at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, an affiliate of RWJBarnabas Health, in Livingston, New Jersey. She has carried on her late husband’s legacy by providing philanthropic support to Caldwell University’s nursing program, establishing the Shamkant Mulgaonkar Endowed Scholarship Fund and continuing to support the Mulgaonkar Family Scholarship Fund. 

In accepting the awards, Ujwala encouraged the graduates to work on kindness in their own lives.  “I know that Shamkant would want me to tell you to keep kindness in your hearts and bring kindness to others. Every day. Through every action and every word.” 

Shamkant was one of the preeminent professionals in transplantation in the United States. He was instrumental in the rapid growth of transplantation and championed the development of the Living Donor Transplant Institute at RWJBarnabas Health. Shamkant was a dynamic leader who cared for more than 1,500 kidney transplant recipients. He and his team were largely responsible for the success of the Barnabas Health Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division. Shamkant was a member of the Caldwell University Nursing Advisory Board and served as a guest lecturer on campus for nursing and public health students.  

The mistress of ceremonies was Sister Kathleen Tuite, O.P., vice president for student life; the invocation was given by Colleen O’Brien, campus minister.  Benedictions were given by Sister Mary John Kearney, O.P. and Sister Donna Ciangio, O.P., members of Caldwell’s Board of Trustees.  

The grand marshals were: Graduate ceremony: Ann Marie Callahan, Professor of Education Coordinator, Graduate Business Programs; first undergraduate ceremony: Jennifer Rhodes, DNP, Assistant Professor of Nursing; second undergraduate ceremony – Sara Tedrick Parikh, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling.

View ceremony recordings, photo galleries, highlights and more: