An annual celebration of the liberal arts at Rutgers keeps stadium packed
The School of Arts and Sciences held its annual convocation Sunday, drawing a large and spirited crowd of graduates and their families for a celebration of the liberal arts tradition at Rutgers University.
It was the third year that the university’s largest and most comprehensive school held its convocation following Commencement at High Point Solutions Stadium. And like the previous two years, thousands of relatives and friends showed up to cheer on the SAS graduates and watch them ascend to the stage and shake hands with the school’s deans.
A total of 2,328 students participated in the ceremony.
“I am the first college graduate in my family,” said Matthew Rivera, of Sayreville. “So it means a lot for my family to come and see me walk across the stage.”
Ashley Zarrelli, of Plainfield, said she had nearly 15 relatives on hand for the occasion.
“The entire experience of being in the stadium is so exciting,” she said.
The convocation began around 12:30 under clear, sunny skies with a procession that included gondoliers displaying the flag of each department and program in Arts and Sciences. James Masschaele, the executive vice dean of the school, delivered the convocation remarks, reminding the graduates that they are part of a 251-year tradition that continues to break new ground in teaching, research, and service
“You should feel proud of your achievements, but also proud of being part of a venerable institution that is rich in tradition while remaining squarely on the cusp of innovation and discovery,” he said.
Masschaele also told the graduates that their experience over the last four years as members of a diverse and inclusive campus community has equipped them well for the world.
“You have gained the essential skills to be role models and forces for the greater good,” he said. “As you make your way in the world, take that experience of engaging in dialogue with all the different people you have met here. Keep that openness! It’s a part of your Rutgers heritage.”
Graduates said they have an array of plans in mind. Some have lined up jobs. Others want to take a gap year. Still others are on their way to graduate school.
Sean Kelly, an economics major from Marlton, will be working for a major power tool manufacturer, as part of the company’s leadership development program.
“I’ll be working with the sales and marketing team, trying to develop new strategies,” he said. “I am pretty excited.”
Brian Olivares, a Spanish major, is looking forward to an international experience, nurtured by his experience doing two Study Abroad programs, one at the University of Salamanca in Madrid and another at an orphanage in Peru run by Mother Teresa’s order.
“My plans for next year are finishing my TESL certification so I can teach English abroad and hopefully move to Germany to do a master’s program,” Olivares said.
Crystal Carkeek, who had a double major in cell biology and neuroscience and psychology, will take a gap year before applying to medical school.
“I am very into the brain,” the Cherry Hill native said. “I’m interested in being one of three things: a neurosurgeon, a neurologist, or a psychiatrist.”
Despite disparate plans, students agree they will miss Rutgers.
“It has a very homey feel for such a big place,” Rivera said.
Jie Ouyang, a computer science major, will be returning to his native China but hopes to come back to Rutgers one day for a graduate degree.
“I love this place,” he said. “I learned a lot, had a lot of friends, and we were always collaborating, like on coding.”
For the families sitting in the stands and watching their loved ones on the video screen, the convocation had special resonance.
Three women said they came to cheer on communications major Ayana Moody; her cousin, Renee Jones; and two great aunts: Joyce Jones and Jennifer Jones.
Joyce Jones said she can remember attending the graduation of Ayana’s mother.
“It’s an indescribable feeling to be here today,” Joyce Jones said. “To have watched my niece graduate, then my grand-niece, it makes a full circle.”
Meanwhile, Toms River resident John Mizsak and wife Jolene were thrilled to watch their only child, Micaela, walk across the stage and earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She plans to attend the School of Social Work for a graduate degree and specialize in treating people with addictions.
“We remember like it was yesterday when we dropped her off on College Avenue,” John Mizsak said. “We were concerned because it was a big school, and didn't know how she was going to react. But she thrived here. She loved it. And that’s what makes us happy.”
Traveling from Dayton, Ohio to watch English major Esi Bissah walk across stage were two aunts, Deborah Hawkins and Karen Brigham, and a grandmother, Susie Hawkins.
“We always have supported our nieces and nephews in whatever they do,” Brigham said. “They know how important it is to go to school and get an education and we are so proud of them.”
Susie Hawkins said she was overwhelmed.
“This is my youngest grandchild,” she says. “I am speechless.”