Glad to have you back! It’s been a while.
Not since 2007 has the graduating class at SJC Brooklyn donned their caps and gowns and celebrated commencement on their home campus in Clinton Hill. Back then, the Nets still played in Jersey, graduates rarely decorated their commencement caps and Marty Markowitz was still Brooklyn borough president and still crashing college commencement ceremonies.
So, on a sun-kissed Saturday, when nearly 300 St. Joseph’s College students — most from the Class of 2021 and some from the Class of 2020 — gathered at four separate ceremonies across the picturesque campus, it was pretty spectacular.
The day and the moment brought 48-year-old graduate Gerard Placide to tears. The U.S. Army veteran — who emigrated 20 years ago from Trinidad and earned a bachelor’s in general studies — was choked up with emotion while attempting to speak on how much the College has helped him.
“Knowledge is power,” Placide, who is looking to start a new career in government, promoting social justice, said after officially receiving his degree at the May 22 event.
Essence Haskins, 23, an aspiring FBI agent who earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice, savored the moment too. She attended a morning ceremony with her maternal grandparents. Each of the graduates were permitted to have two guests.
“This day is very important to me. I worked hard to reach this point,” said Haskins, who moved to Brooklyn from Panama at 15. “There have been a lot of challenges in my life. I didn’t know if I was going to reach this point.”
For valedictorian Rachel Rocha ’21 of Linden, New Jersey, coming back to campus for St. Joseph’s 102nd commencement brought forth a powerful moment.
“It felt indescribable — I literally woke up this morning and couldn’t believe I was graduating today,” said Rocha, a marketing major with a minor in business administration and a concentration in sports management. She is the first in her family to graduate college.
Rocha will pursue a masters of science in sport business at the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality management at Temple University. Before then, however, she’ll take some photos with her roommates, have dinner with her family, and attend the first game of the New York Knicks upcoming playoff series in her capacity as a public relations student associate at Madison Square Garden.
“I came to SJC from New Jersey because I was enamored with the beauty of Brooklyn — it was so awesome to be able to come back on campus and soak in its beauty one last time as a student,” Rocha said.
In 2017, SJC Brooklyn’s Class of 2021 members were encouraged at freshman orientation to “Reach Beyond the Stars” as they pursued their degrees and began to build toward their future.
On Saturday, their College president, Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., who took helm of the College in 2017, affirmed they were on their way.
“You made it. Congratulations,” Dr. Boomgaarden, told the graduates during the ceremonies. “This was no small task, considering what you’ve overcome. You made it, but you didn’t make it alone. Family, faculty, friends and other fans were there to support you.”
The Day in Photos
‘Favorite Day of the Year’
St. Joseph’s Board of Trustees Chair Christopher R. Carroll ’88, Esq., also spoke at each of the ceremonies.
“This is my favorite day of the year: it’s a day of feeling, of excitement, of pride and of family. It’s a day to look back and be proud of what’s been done, especially during a time that no one has ever experienced and when it has never been harder,” Carroll said. “You’re now part of a larger St. Joseph’s College family — it means so much to us to know that you’ll be successful in whatever you put your mind to. However, in your lives, don’t just try to do well. Be sure to try to DO GOOD. Everyday, try to find ways to do something special, something different to make things better.”
Speech pathology graduate Molly Day, 21, said she plans to do just that.
“I became a lifelong learner at St. Joseph’s College,” said Day of Rockaway Beach. “I’m very grateful for the experience that I received at St. Joseph’s. It molded me into a very mature young woman — ready to help change the world for the better.”
Giovanna Pacheco, 21, of Ozone Park found herself on Saturday thinking a lot about her parents. The couple, originally from Puebla, Mexico, sat (alternately waving a small Mexican flag) with their daughter during a morning ceremony under a giant tent set up outside the Dillon Child Student Center.
“I’m incredibly proud that my parents are able to accompany me here today,” Giovanna Pacheco said. “They were so instrumental in helping me get to this point.”
Alisha Karmski, 23, who earned a bachelor’s in psychology and sociology, also brought a flag.
“I brought my flag from Ethiopia,” Karmski of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said through a wide smile.
For Andrew Wenzler, who double-majored in child study and speech communication studies, being the inaugural winner of the Leadership in Action award was especially rewarding in light of the considerable community service he performed during his years at St. Joseph’s.
“This award is so special to me because it was based off of teamwork,” the Maspeth, Queens, resident said. “I especially learned the value of this during my two alternative spring break trips to Texas and North Carolina; it was so powerful to see all of us, students from both campuses, each playing a vital role in accomplishing what we set out to do.”
Coming back to campus for commencement was a powerful experience for Nanyamka Scott, a 2020 child study graduate from Flatbush, Brooklyn, who is pursuing a graduate degree in psychology at Brooklyn College.
“I am so excited to be back on campus, in-person, for my graduation!” Scott beamed. “It’s so surreal to see all my friends, my professors and the Dillon Center after the past year.”