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Caldwell, N.J., Sept. 21, 2020 –  The Class of 2020 finally got their day in the sun. Caldwell University’s  78th annual commencement ceremonies took place Sunday, Sept. 20 on an athletics field in beautiful fall-like temperatures.    

Four months after the originally scheduled event (delayed by the worldwide pandemic) the now proud alumni walked across the stage and were cheered on by their loved ones whether in-person or remotely.  There were three separate ceremonies-two undergraduate and one graduate-to ensure social distancing. It had been a journey they never imagined and they were treasuring every minute of it. 

“We displayed resiliency and persevered through the pandemic…we stand here today in celebration, better, stronger and wiser for it,”  said Marisa Juliano, of Forked River, New Jersey, who gave the student commencement address at the graduate ceremony. 



Juliano, who earned a Master of Art in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with Art Therapy specialization degree, said during their last months as students this year’s class was forced to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances. Juliano, who has an undergraduate degree in art and psychology from Caldwell, said her life’s journey into young adulthood was shaped by her time on the Caldwell University campus.  “The experiences that I had here were a crucial part of my development.”   During the pandemic, Juliano served COVID-19 patients and high-risk seniors providing art therapy services at a senior citizen community. “The Caldwell mission of giving back, lives within each of us,” said Juliano. 


Dr. Matthew Whelan, who became Caldwell’s ninth president July 1, noted that if it were not for the pandemic, the graduates and he would not have crossed paths. 

When ‘out of the ordinary things’ like this happen, he said, “I like to ask myself ‘what is this teaching me?’” said Dr. Whelan.   He commended them for their hard work while juggling jobs, internships and other responsibilities. susan“You were met with unprecedented challenges.  Your world was upended.  And still, you made it.” Quoting Nelson Mandela, Dr. Whelan said, “‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’  You sit here today, the very embodiment of that quote. You have taught me that when you carry the Caldwell University mission and the core values of respect, integrity, community and excellence…nothing is impossible. Class of 2020, you are an inspiration to us all.”  Dr. Whelan told the graduates that he looked forward to continue to meet them on their journeys as alumni.


Dr. Nancy Blattner, former university president, who could not attend due to travel restrictions, sent her remarks virtually from St. Louis, Missouri where she is now president of Fontbonne University.  

Dr. Blattner told the graduates that she was among many people “who are not able to be physically present but nonetheless are cheering for you and want you to know how proud they are of all you have accomplished during your time at Caldwell University.”  


In addition to their work force and  job readiness skills that they gained at Caldwell, Dr. Blattner said it is her hope that the graduates had been inspired to take with them special values to live a full life- “the desire to do good and be a source of goodness to others…nurture an adventuresome spirit…discover your passion…take time every day for the rest of your life to be grateful.”  Choose to do good, she said, “when you are not rewarded, when you are too tired or when people question why you take time to do so. That is when your goodness is needed most.”  Be attuned “to those things about which you feel passionate and look for ways to express that interest in your family, in your workplace and in your communities.” 


Lamar-Shea Chang gave the student commencement address at the undergraduate ceremonies.  Chang, who received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and Biology with a minor in Chemistry, said Caldwell gave the students “the perfect gift for a lifetime.” 

”We all received a great education which will have  ripple effects in all our individual communities. A great gift from Caldwell, a great take away.”  He pointed out that beyond the excellent academics, many other aspects of their university life formed that perfect gift.  The  opportunities to exercise personal passions, the chances to build communities within the dorms and lasting friendships, the inspiration for fundraisers and “the Catholic Dominican way,” which “in it’s essence means to act out of love,” said Chang. 

“We are leaving with arsenals of tools and a calibrated compass needed to have an impact on the lives of billions… for generations to come. It is true, a mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions,” said Chang who grew up on the island of Jamaica in Portmore, St. Catherine. 

It was “surreal” to be attending the ceremony, said Stefani Konboz, who received a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and is now pursuing a master’s in occupational therapy.  “We finally get to see everyone again and celebrate our accomplishments.”

Curdel McFarlane-Pierce was “ecstatic” to reach the milestone of receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, something she had “wanted for a very long time.”  She was a licensed practical nurse for many years before joining Caldwell’s program.  The commencement ceremony was “the self-actualization…this did it,” she said.   


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. Communication and Media Studies Professor Bob Mann presented the candidates and degrees. Dr. Whelan gave the benediction. 


The grand marshals were: 

Graduate ceremony-Joanne Jasmine,Professor of Education, Coordinator, M.A. Curriculum and Instruction, Co-Coordinator, Ed.D./Ph.D. Educational Leadership. 

Undergraduate Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing ceremony – 

Kathleen Kelley, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Nursing Education

School of Nursing and Public Health.

Undergraduate Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts Ceremony – Yang Cai, Professor of Sociology.


Watch the Graduate ceremony here.

Watch the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing ceremony here.

What the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts ceremony here.