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Their Brightest Hour: A Celebration of RCNJ Graduates

Image taken from the stage looking out over the arena floor filled with hundreds of graduates and seats filled with thousands of guests. The electronic banner on the big screen hanging from the ceiling reads "Congratulations Class of 2024!" President Jebb is standing at the podium. Her back is to the camera but she is facing the stage on the big screen.

by Liz Mendicino ’26*

The lights inside the Prudential Center shined as brightly as the sun outside on May 29. It was time to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2024 at Ramapo College’s Undergraduate Commencement.

A quiet yet palpable excitement permeated the hallways of the Prudential Center where the students lined up with less than one hour before their big entrance into the arena. For one last moment, this time in black regalia and colorful stoles, cords, medals, and decorated caps: students gathered. Some were known to each other as friends, some as classmates, and some as familiar strangers. No matter the relationship, they were gathered and united in nervous, excited energy. Each graduate has paved their own path at Ramapo, and now they will continue their journeys in different directions. Friends helped each other look their very best: Straightening a cap, a stole, or retouching makeup. Meanwhile, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, loved ones and guests filled the seats of the arena, vying for the best vantage point to see their graduate cross the stage when their names were called.

This is it.

The culmination of hard work…of relationship-building…of soul-searching…of figuring who you are and want to be. History was made at Ramapo, and it looks different for everyone. Whether it was being the first college graduate in a family, or following in the footsteps of college-educated relatives; the one common bond for all graduates is that Ramapo College was a part of this accomplishment. And now, it’s the finale. Even though this ceremony is called “commencement,” which means “beginning,” it feels like the end, but it is just the beginning of your journey after life at Ramapo.

The students processed into thunderous applause as the jumbotron provided closeups for the crowd to see overhead. Students, faculty, staff, and trustees entered and took their respective places. Grand Marshal Dr. Naseem Choudhury, professor of psychology and neuroscience, laid the college’s mace down on stage, signifying the start of the ceremony.

Ramapo College President Cindy Jebb thanked the platform party, deans, faculty, and staff for their unwavering support of the graduates. She then turned her attention to the Class of 2024 with the theme of kindness woven into the fabric of her remarks. All of your experiences- while they were uniquely yours, they were not isolated. You have had the benefit of sharing in a lived experience through which you learned, you were challenged, and you grew, and through which you will always be connected,”  she said, also reminding students to always remember that there were people along the way who helped you, who pulled up a chair for you…who stayed after class when you needed a little extra time – people who cared about you– remember these people and their acts of kindness, and offer up your own as you move forward.”

Jebb then introduced the 2024 Undergraduate Commencement Keynote Speaker: New Jersey Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State Tahesha L. Way, who immediately acknowledged that the path was not easy for the Class of 2024. “And what a unique learning experience this class has had! Few in history can claim the upheaval you and your peers experienced. You even missed important milestones as you left high school and began freshman year. But with all that, you have persevered through. I’m here to tell you that we have big expectations for you.” She added that leadership, happiness, confidence, and fairness (which are the meanings of her four daughters’ names: Fallon, Farrah, Faythe, and Fiona) are the foundation of consensus building instilled during their time at Ramapo.

The excitement of the crowd grew with each speech, serving as a reminder of the sheer effort and dedication it took to get to this point. Undergraduate Commencement Speaker Nashari Payano ’24 spoke of perseverance. Four years ago, the idea of sitting here today, surrounded by love, support, and friendship, was very hard to imagine.” She recalled relatable, memory-making moments for her classmates that began in 2021, not 2020, the year they would have had a global pandemic not been occurring: Late-night study sessions, attending campus events and activities, soaking in the four seasons of beauty campus affords, studying abroad, and of course, creating friendships. “These friendships are now integral parts of our lives and will forever be invaluable parts of our Ramapo experience. In times of uncertainty or adversity, we will always be able to rely on the network of resilience and compassion that we have built together at our ‘Home Sweet Po’.”

The tight-knit community is why we say Home Sweet Po, and it is what students love about Ramapo. Communication Arts major Cassidy Wade ’24 knows. “My favorite part of Ramapo was all the people that I’ve met along the way, it’s hard to think about just one specific thing, but the people that make the place.” Nursing major Ashley Agrillo ’24 feels the same, sharing, “I love the family I created here.”

The graduates crossed the stage as their names were called and their families and friends cheered. While many of the graduates looked to the crowd, smiled, and walked off, others expressed their personality one last time. They wore blinding smiles from ear to ear, excitedly waved to the stands, gave thumbs ups and showed off a dance move or two. There were fleeting moments of political expression, and moments of humor. Prudential Center never quieted down throughout the celebration.

Tassels were turned. Caps were tossed. Selfies were snapped. Hugs were given and taken. The Class of 2024 officially became Ramapo alumni. They left their profound mark on the Ramapo community, and as they exited the Prudential Center onto Mulberry Street, they moved forward to leave their mark on the rest of the world. The ceremony was an all-encompassing scrapbook of the graduates’ accomplishments. Each and every person in the arena was reminded that four years ago, these students were not given the typical first year of a college class, that their first meeting with their fellow graduates was on a screen from their rooms. The image of the Class of 2024 was effectively transferred from the computer screen to reality.

Congratulations, Class of 2024! Shine bright like the stars that you are. And remember: Once a Roadrunner, always a Roadrunner. Visit the Commencement website to see more photos of this memorable day. The livestream of the ceremony will posted there shortly.

*Content contributions from Lisa Ambrose, and photography from John LaRosa and Alexandra Modafferi