More Than 2,100 Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded at 195th Commencement Ceremony

President Waldron recognized during her last Commencement before she retires June 30

WCBS-TV anchor Kristine Johnson told the Class of 2018 to use the preparation and perseverance of earning their bachelor’s degrees as a catalyst for future success during her keynote address at William Paterson University’s 2018 undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 18 at the Prudential Center in Newark. More than 10,000 family members and friends cheered on the graduates as they celebrated earning their bachelor’s degrees. To see more photos of the event, click here.

“The strategy to win remains the same. You set a goal to earn a bachelor’s degree—what made you persevere? Channel that, remember that,” she said.  “This is what success feels like, and it all begins again tomorrow.”

Johnson recalled the beginning of her career, when she landed her job as a part-time assignment editor and was told she would not reach her goal of being a reporter. “You will be tested. You will be challenged. There were days when I said, ‘I’m done,’” she said. “But what I didn’t realize was that I was building the foundation to be a good reporter. I knew I needed to work and commit to my goals.”

She told the graduates to continue to learn and adapt.  “There is no life syllabus,” she said.  It’s your turn to take the reins and create a game plan.”  Quoting an ancient Roamn philosopher who said “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunities,” she encouraged the graduates to take advantage of what makes of them unique as they set out on this next chapter in their journeys.  “Be disruptors, be innovators, be tastemakers, and also be leaders,” she said.  “Be great and be you.”

Johnson, a broadcast journalist for two decades, has been recognized for her professional excellence, receiving seven Emmy Awards, including one for team coverage of Hurricane Sandy. She is also known for her service to numerous community organizations in the tri-state area. Johnson was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree for “her excellence and achievements in the news industry, for her passion and humanity in communicating information to her viewers, and for her dedication to service in her community and beyond.”

An honorary doctor of humane letters degree was also awarded to Dr. Henry Pruitt Jr., trustee emeritus, who served on the University’s Board of Trustees for 33 years until his retirement in June 2017. Pruitt, who also had a distinguished career as an educator, including 22 years as principal of Janis E. Dismus Middle School in Englewood, and a significant record of service to his community, was honored for “his achievements as an educator, for his dedicated advocacy for diversity and for the success of all students, and for his commitment to higher education and especially to William Paterson University and its students.”

President Kathleen Waldron, who is retiring on June 30 after nearly eight years at the helm of the University, also spoke to the Class of 2018, and challenged the more than 2,100 students to use their William Paterson University degrees to become leaders in today’s society. “Some are telling us that our country is fractured by political and social ideologies,” she said. “I believe that your generation, with you as leaders, have a unique opportunity to use your education for the greater good of society, to be civically engaged individuals, and to be ethical and moral people. You can help make this country a stronger, unified whole that lives by its core values and supports the dignity of all people. I believe in you and believe all is within your grasp.”

Fred Gruel, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, congratulated President Waldron on her impending retirement and thanked her for her leadership. “We commend her for the leadership she provided, both on campus and for public higher education in the state,” he said. “She brought a fresh, new perspective into the University that helped us better serve the citizens of New Jersey, and most importantly, our students at William Paterson University.”

Valedictorian Abigail DeBel, a May 2018 graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders, summa cum laude, spoke about how much the University has meant to her.  “At William Paterson, I found a welcoming atmosphere, with friends that encourage and support me and professors that challenge me every day while finding ways to demonstrate that they care about me and my fellow students as individuals,” she said. DeBel also thanked her family, including her father, Rick DeBel ’87, noting that he attended William Paterson for six years at night to earn his degree, “providing me with a wonderful example of hard work and a drive to succeed.”  DeBel encouraged her fellow graduates to actively give back to their communities. “When you leave William Paterson, go out and give wholeheartedly—give your love, your time, and your talents to help others.  That’s how this call will make a difference.”

The graduates, who ranged in age from 18 to 74, hailed from 13 states and 14 countries, and included 29 veterans and active service members. About thirty percent are the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree, and the majority of students worked while earning their degrees. More than 400 students graduated with Latin honors of summa sum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude for achieving consistently high, or perfect, grade point averages during their studies at the University.

Among the students earning degrees were Reem Eldabagh, who graduated with a double major in biology and chemistry as well as a minor in French, summa cum laude, and was named the 2018 “Outstanding Senior” by the William Paterson University Alumni Association. Eldabagh, who completed her degree in three years, performed very high level interdisciplinary genetics research during her time on campus working with Professor James Arnone, biology, and Professor Jay Foley, chemistry. Additionally, she served as president of Les Francophones – the French club on campus—and public relations officer for the Chemistry Club, Muslim Student Association, Future Healthcare Professionals, and Students for Justice in Palestine, among other activities. To read more, click here.

Also graduating was Jessie Cussac, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public health, cum laude, and is heading to a two-year Peace Corps placement in Guyana. Cussac is being sent to Guyana as a community health promotions specialist; he will work with the local health department and schools, helping them present health statistics and education to propel students to engage in behavioral changes for the betterment of their health. To read more, click here.

Domenico DiMaio ’97, president of the William Paterson Alumni Association, welcomed the new graduates to their new roles as alumni. “As alumni, you join the ranks of more than 78,000 Pioneers who live throughout New Jersey, the nation, and the world and proudly represent our institution as accomplished leaders in every profession,” he said. “I implore you to keep William Paterson close to your hearts, as I and many other alumni do.”

During the ceremony, three faculty were honored for excellence. Michele Cascardi, professor of psychology, received the 2018 Faculty Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Expression Award; Betty Kollia, professor of communication disorders, received the 2018 Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, and Bruce Diamond, professor of psychology, received the 2018 Faculty Excellence Award for Service. A dozen alumni from the Class of 1968 also processed with the graduates and were acknowledged for having just celebrated their milestone 50th reunion.