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More than 1,800 Graduates Show Their Fighting Osprey Spirit at Boardwalk Hall

Posted on May 10, 2019 at 5:30 PM

Atlantic City _ They may face failures, but they are strong enough to keep fighting for their dreams, speakers told more than 1,800 graduates at the Stockton University Commencement at Boardwalk Hall on May 10.

Keynote speaker Congressman Jeff Van Drew said failure is a part of life, but the graduates’ ability to rise up and keep going is what got them to graduation and will lead to their success.

“You have overcome odds, tried, failed and tried again until you met your goals,” Van Drew said during Commencement at Boardwalk Hall. “Remember those failures, and remember what it is that drove you forward.”

For graduate Luana Cordeiro of Galloway Township, those words have special significance.

In 2009 Cordeiro was preparing for her final semester as a dean’s list student at Kean University when prescribed pain medication led to an addiction to cocaine and heroin. She struggled for years with the addiction until finally entering rehab. She recovered, but thought college was a lost dream until the Atlantic County Recovery Court and Stockton offered her the opportunity to return to get her degree in criminal justice.

“My mother and my family are so proud,” said Cordeiro, who now works at Enlightened Solutions and plans to get her master’s degree in social work. Recovery Court Judge Mark Sandson and Assignment Judge Julio Mendez are so proud they attended her graduation.

“What Luana did is very, very hard,” Sandson said. “And now she is helping others.”

President Harvey Kesselman’s speech focused on famous fighters like Muhammad Ali and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and some not so famous (at least yet) fighters – every student in the graduating class.

“You have proven yourself to be Osprey Strong or else you wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” he said.

He said challenges can sometimes feel like traps, but he urged the graduates to instead see them as opportunities, chances to test their mettle and rise about their circumstances.

“You have a choice,” he said. “You can either throw in the towel or use it to wipe the sweat off your brown and keep it moving.”

Kesselman and Stockton Board of Trustees Chairman Leo Schoffer also presented Van Drew with an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Faculty Senate President Donnetrice Allison said while faculty may have lectured students on everything from whales to using cell phones in class, their goal was to see them succeed.

“And you have,” she said. “So celebrate today. Celebrate your accomplishment and get ready to soar.”

Student speaker Christina Denney received her BA in Criminal Justice in December and is already working toward her master’s degree. She also emphasized the persistence need to reach goals.

“The time has now come to show the world what we have to offer,” she said. “It is time to spread the seeds of the knowledge and experiences we gained here at Stockton University and blossom into our future endeavors.”

One graduate who has already shown what she can offer is Veletta Mister of Pleasantville, who while old enough to collect Social Security, chose college over retirement after losing her job when the Trump Taj Mahal closed.

Mister got an associate degree in marketing from Passaic County Community in 1975 while married with three children. She said grants became available and she had always wanted to go to college.

“My great grandmother raised me and my mother never finished high school,” she said. “But I knew the importance of education. Without it you don’t grow.”

She wanted to continue, but instead worked in banks, then moved to the shore where she got a job in surveillance at Taj Mahal in 1989, working there until they closed. She couldn’t find work, but took advantage of the opportunity to finish her degree.

“I figured I might never get this opportunity again,” she said. “I did four classes a semester and it was hard, but all my professors were supportive and I was able to accomplish something I wanted to accomplish and make my dream come true.”

She said family members have told her she is a role mode and inspiration, which makes her proud. She now has a part-time job in another casino and has no plans to retire.

“Education enhances your mind,” she said. “You just have to stay with it. Don’t give up.” 

Graduating student Christian Jimenez sang the national anthem. 

The graduating class incudes some 2,000 students who earned their degrees in summer of 2018, fall 2018 and spring 2019.

The event also recognized five professors for reaching Emeritus status: Professor of Psychology Michael Frank, Professor of Computer Science and Information Systems Michael Olan, Associate Professor of Biochemistry Brian Rogerson, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Rupendra Simlot, and Professor of Environmental Studies George Zimmerman.

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