Virtual Ceremonies Honor Rutgers University–Camden Class of 2020

Photo by Samantha Jonson of her graduation cap.

Photo by Samantha Jonson of her graduation cap.

By Sam Starnes and Jeanne Leong

From Questlove to New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli to U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a dazzling range of dignitaries congratulated Rutgers University–Camden graduates in five virtual ceremonies.

The first nurse to become the state’s commissioner of health, Persichilli addressed Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden graduates. “You are entering your profession during an unprecedented epidemic not seen in our country for over 100 years,” said Persichilli, who is leading the state’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. “Today, more than ever, nurses are on the front lines.”

Judith Persichilli addressed Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden graduates

Persichilli, who earned a bachelor of nursing science degree from Rutgers in 1976, said she still draws on lessons she learned as an undergraduate. “My education taught me early on the importance of working in teams and valuing everyone’s contributions,” she said. “Most importantly, it reinforced key life skills such as empathy, compassion, dignity, and respect, which I hope you will carry through your lifetime. Although my career has taken me in different directions, becoming a nurse was the best decision I ever made.”

Questlove, a Grammy-award winning musician, bestselling author, and culinary entrepreneur, shared a video message with graduates of all five schools. “I’m really happy and proud to say congratulations to the Rutgers–Camden class of 2020,” he said. “You did it. It’s a clean slate out here. We need new leaders and thinkers. We need new ideas. You have the answers. This is me begging you to lead. Take it over.”

Others who shared messages of congratulations for graduates included U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Congressman Donald Norcross, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Philadelphia 76ers player Matisse Thybulle.

Questlove, musician, author and culinary entrepreneur

Questlove, musician, author and culinary entrepreneur

Profiles of the Class of 2020 illustrate the creativity, resiliency, and ambition of these Rutgers University–Camden graduates.

The online ceremonies held on May 28 and 29 honored more than 1,800 Rutgers–Camden graduates receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees. “Commencement ceremonies are among the most joyous occasions for our campus,” said Kristin Walker, Rutgers–Camden’s director of campus events and chair of the commencement committee. “Our students work incredibly hard to earn their degrees, often juggling multiple jobs, volunteer and community service, and family obligations. When it became clear that an in-person graduation would not be reality for May 2020, our campus sprang into action. Commencement became ‘job one’ for Rutgers–Camden’s administrative team – many of whom were dealing with extra workloads generated by the pandemic. People came together swiftly, creatively, and harmoniously, working tirelessly to create virtual celebrations for our grads. I was overwhelmed by the dedication of my colleagues.”

The ceremonies can be viewed online. To further honor the Class of 2020, in-person ceremonies are planned to be held in early December.

Rutgers–Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon, who will return to the law faculty on July 1, applauded graduates for reaching the finish line in a challenging moment in history. “You are resilient,” said Haddon, who has presided over commencement ceremonies since 2015. “You are courageous, fierce, and highly motivated leaders. I want you to know that Rutgers-Camden is proud of you, and so am I.”

Sam Adepoju, 2020 Graduate

Sam Adepoju, 2020 graduate

Sam Adepoju, a graduating urban studies student who served as president of the Rutgers–Camden Student Government Association, encouraged his fellow graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences to look to a bright future. “The whole world has been in a state that none of us have experienced before,” Adepoju said. “These are indeed trying times. But I want to assure the joy that is coming will outshine the pain you may be feeling right now.”

Judy Perry Martinez, president of the American Bar Association, offered inspiring words to the new Rutgers Law School‒Camden graduates.

“It seems like yesterday that I was standing where you are today, but my yesterday is nothing like where you are today,” Perry Martinez said. “You are facing unprecedented challenges as law school graduates. I know, because of your grit, determination, and commitment, you will thrive.”

Judy Perry Martinez, President of the American Bar Association

Judy Perry Martinez, President of the American Bar Association

In a nearly 10-minute live segment in the ceremony, Rutgers Law Co-Dean Kimberly Mutcherson congratulated the graduating class and acknowledged the pandemic’s impact on everyone. “When we began this academic year, none of us could have imagined how it would end,” said Mutcherson. “‘Disruptive’ is almost too small a word for the way in which our personal, professional, and academic lives have been thrown into upheaval during the last few months. Though a global pandemic is not something you’ve lived through before, many of you are no strangers to adversity or hard work in the face of turmoil. But I don’t want to dwell on the scariness of the world right now because this is a time for joy.”

Robert DiStanislao, owner and president of RDS Enterprises and a member of the Porsche Cars North America Board of Regents, spoke to School of Business graduates. “Be courageous,” said DiStanislao, a 1983 Rutgers–Camden alumnus. “Take a stand. Be the difference. Go out in the world and be successful. And don’t forget your university.”

Michael Palis, provost of Rutgers–Camden, addressed the Class of 2020 for the Graduate School. “Your advanced academic degrees have prepared you to be creative thinkers,” he said. “As graduates, you will be called upon to use what you’ve learned to lead our communities through this crisis and to help build a better tomorrow on the other side of this pandemic.”


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