Opportunity Defines Bergen and 2019 Grads

Members of the class of 2019.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Bergen Community College class of 2019 and the state’s tuition-free Community College Opportunity Grant initiative took centerstage at the institution’s May 23 graduation ceremony at MetLife Stadium, led by a grant recipient and one of the state’s top champions of the program.

The class, which featured 2,139 students, included Community College Opportunity Grant awardee and class valedictorian Lindsey Njanja.

“It was never easy for me to feel comfortable in a school setting or even go as far as referring to a school as a home,” Njanja, of Lodi, said. “However, all that changed when I came to Bergen. I met amazing professors who were willing to nurture my talents and mold me into the person I am today.”

Njanja overcame personal tragedy to become the class of 2019’s top student – both of her parents passed away from AIDS when she was two-years-old. Since then, she has aspired to become a doctor and hopes to conduct research on the disease that claimed her parents’ lives. Njanja recently earned the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which will provide her with up to $40,000 to study at a four-year institution.

New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis, Ed.D., delivered the keynote address at the event, focusing her remarks on the state’s renewed support of higher education – including the Community College Opportunity Grant. She applauded Bergen for its rollout of the grant program, which ultimately provided a tuition-free college experience to 500 of the institution’s students during the spring pilot.

“Our job is to expand access to higher education to ensure that more residents across the state can benefit from the power that comes from higher education,” Smith Ellis said. “We know that education is powerful. The piece of paper you have earned has the opportunity to be a life-changing kind of powerful.”

Bergen President Michael D. Redmond, Ph.D., served as master of ceremonies; Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III and Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chair Germaine Ortiz also provided remarks. Retiring professor Joan McManus led the procession as grand marshal.

Bergen’s class of 2019 featured:

  • Seventy-one students with a 4.0 GPA;
  • High school students from the Bergen County Applied Technology High School and North Arlington High School earning associate degrees from the College;
  • Members of the No. 1 ranked Phi Theta Kappa chapter in the world;
  • Students who published research in an international journal;
  • Study abroad scholarship winners;
  • Members of the award-winning student newspaper, the Torch;
  • Students who will transfer to Ivy League institutions such as Columbia University and other top-tier schools such as the University of California-Berkeley and NJIT.

For the first time, the entire class wore eco-friendly caps and gowns made from 100 percent, post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

Bergen’s first commencement ceremony took place in 1970. Since its inception, Bergen has grown into the state’s largest community college with approximately 14,000 students taking classes this semester. The College ranks No. 1 in New Jersey for associate degree graduates.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 14,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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