Colleen DeNoia-Grace, MEd ’22, of Pompton Plains, New Jersey, was the graduate student speaker for William Paterson University’s 2022 Graduate Commencement Ceremony on May 19 in the Sports and Recreation Center on campus. DeNoia-Grace earned a master of education degree in special education, which includes an endorsement as a Teacher of Students with Disabilities.
In 2020, University officials decided to rotate the selection of undergraduate and graduate commencement speakers through William Paterson’s four colleges. Students were selected by their respective college deans from among their highest-achieving graduates.
“I am incredibly honored to be here with all of you tonight as we are celebrated for receiving our master’s and doctorate degrees,” she said. “This is truly an incredible accomplishment. Every single one of us is here today because of our dedication and determination throughout our education.”
In her remarks, DeNoia-Grace discussed the unprecedented times the students had faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Throughout the last two years, we have dealt with quarantines, social distancing, remote learning—whether it be the classes we were taking or the classes we were teaching—mask mandates, COVID-19 testing, vaccine releases, and much more,” she said.
“Many of us were dealing with these pandemic restrictions while also working full-time jobs, taking care of our own families, and completing our graduate degrees,” she continued. “Needless to say, all of this came with a lot of emotions. No one would have judged us if we quit. But despite all the restrictions, we continued to push and completed our degree. As Winston Churchill stated, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.’”
She encouraged her fellow graduates to think about why they had chosen to pursue their advanced degrees and how they had accomplished it, despite the obstacles. “When you consider your why and how, think about the professors and advisors, your colleagues and bosses, your patients and students, your family, and friends,” she said. “All those familiar faces who have supported and encouraged you throughout the way…without even knowing it, (they) have given you the strength and guidance and support to continue your education in your respective field.”
DeNoia-Grace, who is a 2007 graduate of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania with a bachelor of arts degree, has more than a decade of teaching experience at the early childhood level. She has served since 2017 as a teacher in the Garfield School District Early Childhood Learning Center. Her graduate thesis at William Paterson was titled, “Does Adding Social Stories Enhance the Play Skills of Children with Autism?”
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