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(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)May 25, 2004

(Mahwah) – Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, who waged a campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2004 Presidential race, credited the Greatest Generation” for the higher education opportunities that today’s students enjoy, in her commencement address at Ramapo College of New Jersey earlier today. They saw the connection between an educated population and a strong America,” she noted before challenging the Class of 2004 to see to it that education is available and affordable for the next generation. Moseley Braun spoke before a crowd of approximately 7,000 graduates, friends, family members, faculty and staff.

Dr. Carolyn M. Merkel, Ramapo class of 1978, received the President’s Award of Merit. Graduating senior Karen Georgiadis, a history major who is completing requirements for certification in secondary education, gave remarks on behalf of the Class of 2004. A total of 996 students who completed their studies in January and during the spring 2004 semester graduated. An additional 173 students who are expected to finish in August also were eligible to participate.

In Moseley Braun’s quest for the Democratic nomination, she qualified for more states’ ballots than any woman in the history of the United States. She has served as a United States Senator and U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, as well as County Executive Officer, State Representative and Assistant United States Attorney. Her extensive legislative record reflects a commitment to social justice, fiscal prudence and good government. The hallmark of her public service has been a dedication to the harmony of the whole community, working to build an inclusive society that taps the talent of all people.

The commencement speaker holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois and a law degree from the University of Chicago. As an Assistant United States Attorney, she worked primarily in the civil and appellate law areas, and tried cases of national importance. Her work in housing, health policy and environmental law won her the Attorney General’s Special Achievement Award, her first public service recognition. Since returning in 2001 from her ambassadorial posting, she has taught law and political science at Morris Brown College and DePaul University, along with maintaining a business law practice and business consultancy in Chicago.

President’s Award of Merit

Dr. Carolyn M. Merkel is a 1978 graduate of Ramapo College with a B.S. in chemistry with honors. After graduation from Ramapo, she earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University as well as a M.S. in technology management from New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Merkel also completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has numerous publications and patents in fields ranging from main group synthetic chemistry to taste attributes of sweeteners, and has been a member of Sigma Xi since 1984.

Merkel is the executive director of strategic ingredient technology for McNeil Nutritionals, a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. She is responsible for technology development for nutritional products. In 1998, McNeil Specialty Products received approval to sell Splenda, a low-calorie sweetener. Merkel successfully launched this product, the only low-calorie sweetener made from sugar.

In 2003 she received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Ramapo College Foundation for her leadership and commitment to higher education. She is a 1994 recipient of the YWCA Tribute to Women in Industry award. Merkel frequently visits Ramapo College to speak with students in the Chemistry Club. She received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Ramapo College in 1981. Merkel is also active in several professional organizations.

She resides in North Haledon with her husband, Lawrence A. Wilson, and three cats.

Notable members of the Class of 2004

Rajintha Bandaranayake is graduating with a dual major in biochemistry and bioinformatics. He was chosen by the faculty to receive the Elaine Winshell Award (outstanding biochemistry major in 2003), the American Institutes of Chemistry Award and the Bioinformatics Award (outstanding bioinformatics major in 2004). He has done research in bioinformatics and co-authored a poster with Ramapo College professor of biology Dr. Paramjeet Bagga that was awarded first place at a regional symposium. He also has done research in biochemistry and co-authored a published manuscript with Dr. Arthur Felix, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the College, in a peer-reviewed scientific journal this past February. Bandaranayake also served as chair of the Student Coordinating Committee for the 3rd Annual Student Minisymposium held at Ramapo College in May. Bandaranayake was born in Sri Lanka and came to the United States in the fall of 2000 to begin his studies at Ramapo College. He will be attending graduate school at the University of Massachusetts this fall, working toward a Ph.D. in biochemistry. At graduation, he will be the flag bearer for the School of Theoretical and Applied Science.

Michael Wilson, an environmental studies major, is interested in ecological restoration and renewable energy. He is the recipient of the Worteich Award in recognition of his work to make the campus landscape more sustainable. This included the design of mitigations for reclaiming Kameron Pond and his contribution in establishing a plan for a Ramapo College Arboretum. Wilson co-authored, along with Dr. Michael Edelstein, a professor of psychology at the College, and several other students, Development of The Ramapo College Arboretum: A Sustainable Master Plan for Ramapo College of New Jersey.” He also has served on the Ramapo Public Policy Group. Currently, the Morris County Park Commission employs him at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum as a horticulturist. His past working experience includes wastewater treatment, park ranger for the state of New Jersey, and camp ranger for the Boy Scouts. From 1981 to 1988, Michael lived off the grid and provided his own electricity with a 12-volt Winco Wincharger windmill.

Melissa Whitney, who is graduating with a degree in communication arts with a concentration in public communications, was recently accepted in a graduate program, Communication, Culture and Technology, at the Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The College is ranked #1 among New Jersey public institutions by College Choice, has been named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and is recognized as a top college by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s, Princeton Review and Money magazine, among others. Ramapo College is also distinguished as a Career Development College of Distinction by, boasts the best campus housing in New Jersey on, and is designated a “Military Friendly College” in Victoria Media’s Guide to Military Friendly Schools.

Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Technology, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a post-master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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