PHOTO: Brookdale’s 2018 Commencement Ceremony.  Credit: Mark DeYoung

LINCROFT, NJ – Nearly 2,100 students graduated from Brookdale Community College on Thursday, May 10, during the college’s 48th annual commencement ceremonies on the Lincroft campus.

A total of 2,091 students from nearly 20 different countries earned associate degrees from the college, with diplomas handed out during two ceremonies held in the Robert J. Collins Arena. The class of 2018 included 242 distinguished scholars and 45 students with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.

Brookdale’s Interim President Dr. David Stout congratulated graduates on their achievements. “During your time here, you’ve developed valuable lifelong skills, formed lasting friendships, and have been challenged to grow academically. You have a better sense of who you are today and who you want to be, better than when you started.  As a graduate, wear that badge with honor.”

Stout warned students to be careful not to make others jealous as they brag about their achievements, particularly when it comes to the money they saved by attending Brookdale first. “On average, each of you saved $24k by coming to Brookdale. Collectively, the class of 2018 saved $7.2M in tuition alone,” he said. 

A total of 979 students earned associate in arts degrees; 530 earned associate in applied science degrees; 473 earned associate in science degrees; 12 earned associate in fine arts degrees; 68 earned academic credit certificates, and 29 earned an academic credit certificate of achievement. Fifty-three students graduated with two degrees (for a total of 2038 degrees awarded).

The 2018 graduating class included 28 local high school seniors who are earning associate degrees through Brookdale’s Early College High School (ECHS) partnerships. Nineteen graduates were from the Poseidon ECHS program at Neptune High School and nine from the St. John Vianney Early College Academy, the first group of students to graduate from these programs.  

Seven graduates representing Brookdale’s four academic institutes received the college’s 2017-18 Outstanding Student Award in recognition of their academic achievements: Katherine Carias and Emily Abrecht, Business and Social Science; Karyssa D’Agostino, Humanities; Olga Kaplansky, Health Sciences; and, Jordan Grillo and Anthony Mauro, STEM.

Graduates Katie Lewandowski, Union Beach, and Cynthia Matthews-Duran, Wall, delivered greetings to their fellow students.

Lewandowski, who spoke during the morning ceremony, graduated with her twin sister, Carly. They are the first in their family to graduate from college. “Two years ago, I could not have imagined that Brookdale would be the best decision of my life. Brookdale has provided me with so many opportunities. The relationships that I formed with my professors are genuine, unmatched, and unique.” She credited her professors with helping her become more confident, advance professionally, lead two student organizations, and develop a 600-hour professional teaching portfolio. Lewandowski will be transferring to Kean University in the fall. 

Lewandowski encouraged her fellow students to use their college education to make a difference. “Whether it has taken you four semesters or four years, it is now time to celebrate your unique stories. It is time for us to write our next chapter, go out, and change the world, just as your Brookdale education has changed you.”

Matthews-Duran spoke during the afternoon and asked her fellow graduates, “What is your why?,” a question that has been her motivator. “Before Brookdale, I lacked confidence and a vision of success. As a young mother I struggled with anxiety and low self-esteem which made college more difficult.” Matthews-Duran’s children became her ‘why’ and she never gave up. Over an 11-year period, she returned to Brookdale three times. “On my third and final attempt, when I was ready to take my education seriously, I was determined to do whatever it took to succeed.” She raised her GPA, earned a place on the Dean’s List twice, entered the Atlantic City Fashion Week Student Designer Showcase and won, and had her designs shown in four fashion shows and published in a fashion magazine. “Brookdale is chock full of resources that enrich all of our lives, enhance our learning, and guide us to the perfect career path,” she said.

Honorary degrees were also awarded to Robert and Joan Rechnitz, founders of the nonprofit Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, restaurateur and community activist Marilyn Schlossbach, and Carol Stillwell, president and CEO of Stillwell Hansen, Inc.

In addition to their support of local arts and education programs through the Two River Theater, the Rechnitzes serve as active philanthropists in the Monmouth County community. Their unprecedented $1 million donation to the Brookdale Foundation in 2014 enabled the launch of the Poseidon Early College High School, a Brookdale program that provides a cost-free associate degree opportunity for Neptune High School students who are the first in their families to attend college. Robert Rechnitz told the audience that he is “deeply proud” of Brookdale and the Poseidon ECHS program.

Stillwell, of Holmdel, is president of Stillwell Hansen, Inc., an award-winning equipment distribution company based in Edison. She has been recognized as one of New Jersey’s top businesswomen four times in the last ten years. She is also a dedicated philanthropist, working to support local and national organizations.

Stillwell encouraged graduates to believe in themselves. “If you expect people to believe in you, you must believe in yourself. It will lead you on adventures and take you to places that you can only dream of today. You have everything that you need inside of you to proper, to succeed, if you just believe.”

She said that her personal mission in life is to give back. “I challenge each of you here today, never forget where you came from. Make a commitment to serve the people, causes, and institutions that speak to your heart. You will leave a mark that will change the world, one life at a time.”

Marilyn Schlossbach is an executive chef, restaurateur and entrepreneur who founded and oversees the Marilyn Schlossbach Group, which manages restaurant and retail environments across the Jersey Shore. She is also an environmentalist, community activist, traveler, and surfer, whose volunteer efforts have included collaborating with Interfaith Neighbors on the Kula Café hospitality-training program, providing gardening and surf lessons through the Boys and Girls Club of Asbury Park, and offering support to local nonprofit organizations such as Clean Ocean Action.

Distinguished alumni awards were presented to Collen Lyons, chief information officer for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and Doris Hudak, trustee emeritus for the Brookdale Alumni Association.

Colleen M. Lyons serves as chief information officer for Lenox Hill Hospital, Lenox Health Greenwich Village and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, and all New York City-based members of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Prior to joining North Shore-LIJ, she served as corporate director of information services at Continuum Health Partners, Inc. Lyons earned an associate degree in computer science from Brookdale in 1980.

Doris Hudak came to Brookdale later in life, balancing parenthood while earning an associate degree in human services, which she received in 1983. Hudak returned to work for the college as a cooperative education coordinator, and later served for more than 20 years with the Brookdale Community College Alumni Association. Hudak received the college’s prestigious Barringer Award in 2009. Hudak also designed a bereavement program for area funeral directors, which became the official manual of the Diocese of Trenton. She was also honored by Bishop John M. Smith for her service on the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved.

Many local dignitaries including Monmouth County Freeholders Lillian Burry, John Curley, and Patrick Impreveduto, the Brookdale Board of Trustees, and hundreds of Brookdale faculty, staff, and administrators were in attendance to recognize this year’s graduating class.