Over the years Professor Angelo Perna, who has taught at NJIT for 45 years and rarely missed a graduation, has watched tens of thousands of students graduate from NJIT. On this graduation day, seated high up in the Prudential Center, Perna looked down at the rows of graduates dressed in black robes and colored stoles. He declared that they looked like flowers.“Wearing those beautifully colored academic stoles -- red and yellow, purple and blue -- the graduates look like a bed of flowers in a garden,” said Perna. “And they are flowers in the sense that they're blooming into maturity.”
NJIT held its 2012 graduation ceremony at the Prudential Center on Tuesday, with 2,444 students receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees. NJIT conferred degrees on students from the six colleges of the university. NJIT also awarded honorary degrees to Mary Sue Sweeney Price, the director and CEO of The Newark Museum, and to Javad Hassan, chairman and CEO of the NeST Group of Companies. Hassan also gave the commencement address.
“I had two guiding principles that ruled my life, one being passion and the other perseverance,” said Hassan. “If you have a passion for your work and also possess persistence and perseverance you will succeed,” he said. “Take risks, never give up and work hard to overcome difficulties.”
NJIT President Joel Bloom, who presided over the ceremony and also spoke to the graduates, said that their training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) makes them uniquely qualified for careers that will improve the quality of life in America.
“Your creative expertise in the STEM disciplines will energize economic development and social progress,” said Bloom. “Some of you will lead innovation in sustainable energy or in computing technology, while others will lead in health care and the life sciences. Others graduating today will create the infrastructure vital for national and international prosperity. But whatever path you choose to follow, I know you will work to build a better world.”
For the NJIT student graduates, this was a day of high spirits, good cheer and in the end, relief. NJIT is a demanding school where students work hard for their degrees. As they sat at the ceremony listening to the speakers and watching the procession of colleges take the stage to retrieve their diplomas, many reminisced.
“It’s been a long four years and I’m really happy I’m done,” said Yusuf Rimawi, Clifton, an environmental science major who has a job working for Quantech, an environmental company that’s cleaning the Passaic River. “Now it’s time for me to make a name for myself. NJIT gave me resilience, a quality that will help me throughout my life.”
Mona Taherisefat, Livingston, a biomedical engineering major who in the fall will start a master’s degree in public health at UMDNJ, came to the ceremony with three words printed on her mortar board: “EAT, PRAY, STUDY.” Those three words encapsulated her four years at NJIT, said Mona. “I had little time to sleep while a student, so I tried to EAT well," she explained. "I PRAYED for good grades and I spent endless hours in STUDY.”
Mostafa Abou-El Fetouh, a computer engineering major who worked as an intern for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sat sending photos via his Blackberry to family members in the Philippines. They couldn’t fly in to see him graduate, so he wanted to send them visuals of the ceremony. Asked to describe how it felt to be graduating, Mostafa also used three little words: “Finally, I’m done," he smiled.
Xiaojing Liu, a student from China who majored in engineering management, sat at the ceremony with her iPhone in her lap. She was messaging her parents back home in Beijing. They, too, couldn’t fly in to see her walk for her degree. So she sent photos to them along with this message: “I love you both so much and I’m coming back to see you soon.” Xiaojing will return to Beijing in two weeks to start a job as a network engineer for China's Earthquake Network Center. She left China to come to America to study at a top American university -- NJIT. She thought a degree from NJIT would make her more marketable. She was right. "I'm very happy I studied at NJIT because it has given me a better future."
Herman Blackman didn’t have an iPhone with him this day. He’s 95 years old. He graduated from the Newark College of Engineering with a degree in chemical engineering in 1938. He came to see the ceremony with a few of his friends, all senior NJIT alums. Blackman, who has perfect recall, said he enrolled at NCE in the midst of the Great Depression. Tuition then was $180 a year, which he paid in $15 monthly installments. He worked his way through NCE, working nights in a college lab. He was paid 20 cents an hour.
When Blackman graduated, the depression persisted and he had a hard time finding a job. It took awhile, but he did find a job. Then during WWII he joined the Navy, after which he had a successful career as an engineer. He has fond memories of his NCE days and enjoys returning to see the students graduate. He was amazed, he said, in learning about Paul Dupiano, a student graduating with four majors -- chemical engineering, electrical engineering, physics and math -- and 289 credits, more than twice the number of credits it takes to graduate. And he described the 2012 graduation ceremony as “amazing and wonderful.”
“It’s a tough economy now like it was when I graduated,” Blackman said. “But these graduates are so smart that if they just persevere they’ll find good jobs."
Vanessa Jorge, a master's student who majored in transportation, already has a good job. She's a highway engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. After she received her diploma, Vanessa immediately used her Blackberry to update her status on Facebook. She changed her status from student to graduate and wrote this message to friends: "Thank you everyone. I sit here in an itchy cap and gown ready to move on in life. No more tuition fees for me."
Monica Lago, an electrical engineering major, sat in a row with a lyric from the band Queen glued onto her mortar board: "We Are the Champions, My Friends." Asked why she chose to accessorize her cap with that lyric, Monica smiled triumphantly: "Because that's how we all feel today," she said, "like champions."