NEWARK, NJ — As cheering family and friends looked on, nearly 1,200 Essex County College students received their hard-earned associate degrees as the college celebrated its 50th annual commencement on Friday, May 31, at Prudential Center in Newark.
Fighting back tears, class valedictorian and criminal justice major Pyetra Camargo said, “I want to start off by thanking my mom, Nordia. My mother is a courageous woman who crossed borders so that I could cross this stage today. I also want to thank my sister, Paolla — because I don’t think I thank her enough — for sacrificing so much for me.” Pyetra is from Brazil and will continue her studies at Saint Peter’s University, where she will major in political science.
ECC President emeritus A. Zachary Yamba, who was part of the college’s original faculty in 1968, saluted the graduates as the “Golden Class.”
“You will always have a special place in Essex County College’s history,” Yamba said, recalling the early days of the college, during a time when the civil rights movement was sweeping Newark and the nation. “ECC was one of the new beginnings of Newark as the city came out of the ashes.”
ECC President Anthony E. Munroe, who presided over the ceremony, presented an honorary associate in arts degree to Irene Cooper-Basch for her philanthropy, including her leadership as a champion for education. She is executive officer and secretary of the board for the charitable Victoria Foundation. Noting many in the class are the first in their families to attend college, she said, “You are blazing a trail for your loved ones to follow.”
Cooper-Basch then introduced opera singer Kevin Maynor, who has deep Newark roots and who performed the spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead” to the audience.
In his message to the graduates, Munroe said, “Continue to ask questions. You don’t have to know everything; just know what resources or help you need in order to get to where you want to go.”
Salutatorian Sena Dzirasa, a mathematics major, will transfer to Rutgers University-New Brunswick, where she will major in mathematics and minor in economics. The youngest graduate of the Class of 2019 was Damilola Ademoye, 17, a liberal arts major. Luis Felix, a paralegal studies major, received a sustained round of applause as the oldest graduate at 73.
“For many of us, Essex County College was the only institution that welcomed us with open arms — and that is something to be proud of. Be proud to have graduated today from an institution that believes that education is not a privilege reserved for a select few but a human right to be guaranteed to all,” Pyetra said. “To the Class of 2019, my wish for you all is that you leave here today and become the change that is desperately needed in this world. Do not let borders, or any other social construct, stop you from realizing your wildest dreams.”
Photos Courtesy of Wayne Yourstone