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Undersecretary of State Otero Urges the Graduates to Assess Their Principles, Values, and Beliefs

More than 12,000 family and friends visit the Izod Center to watch ceremony as 2,772 degrees are conferred.

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Spirits were high as 2,772 degrees were conferred during the University’s 189th Commencement ceremony on May 22 in the Izod Center before more than 12,000 family and friends. Maria Otero, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, the highest-ranking Hispanic official at the State Department and the first Latina Under Secretary in its history, received an honorary doctor of laws degree and served as commencement speaker.

Bachelor’s degrees were conferred on 2,446 undergraduates, while 326 students received master’s degrees. Also in attendance were members of the Class of 1962, who are celebrating their 50th reunion and who graduated when William Paterson was called Paterson State College, as well as members of the Pioneer Society, alumni who graduated at least 50 years ago.

Otero, who was honored for her “zeal in enhancing the public interest; her dedication to issues of global development and poverty, and to populations on the margins of society; and her tireless commitment as a champion of democracy,” spoke to the graduates of the importance of earning a college degree, but also of the necessity of defining one’s beliefs and values. “Who you are is important,” she said. “The degree is part of it, but as you start out in your career, take a moment to articulate your principles, values, and beliefs, and ask yourself how integrity and compassion fit into your life.”

President Kathleen Waldron also addressed the assembled graduates. “You have sacrificed and worked hard to reach this milestone,” she said.  “Whatever challenges the future holds, you have proven that you have what it takes to succeed and we are so proud of your academic accomplishments and your hard work. The future is yours. Continue to seek opportunities, advance your education, and make a difference in this world.”

Valedictorian Nathan Giroux, who earned a bachelor of music degree, summa cum laude, advised the graduates to “choose what you will put your effort into. It’s a simple, powerful idea. Then put your all into what you choose….I learned to value knowledge for myself rather than the grade, and learned that internal motivation yields far greater rewards than external motivation.”

Laura Bermingham presented the graduate student speech and spoke of her experiences as a non-traditional student. “I wanted to have the full experience, regardless of my age,” said Bermingham, who will earn a master’s degree in communication disorders in August. “This was the best decision I could have made. Rather than feel uncomfortable around my much younger counterparts, I embraced our commonalities while our differences diminished. Not only did I have a lot to offer, but I had even more to gain. I discovered we were sharing a unique common experience, engaging in commensurate exchange of ideas, and constructing a truly enriching educational adventure.” 

During the ceremony, three faculty were recognized for their contributions to excellence: Maboud Ansari, professor of sociology, excellence in teaching; Edward Burns, professor of English, excellent in scholarship and creative expression; and Rochelle Goldberg Kaplan, professor of educational leadership and professional studies, excellence in service.