New Jersey City University
1,877 NJCU Grads Now Ready for the Future
Dedicating much of one's life to helping other people isn't easy, but it's something that Shalonda McCall knows quite well. McCall, a 34-year-old lifelong Jersey City resident, grew up as the oldest of the 13 children raised by her grandmother. After her grandmother's death, she took in three of her siblings, one of whom suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. After her husband died in a car accident in 2009, McCall became a single mother to her two children, 13-year-old Nevaeh and 7-year-old Stephen.
McCall was one of the 1,877 New Jersey City University students who received their diplomas during the school's commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center yesterday morning. McCall says her grandmother's altruism rubbed off on her, enough so that she's even taken complete strangers into her home when they needed help the most. Her true goal, though, is to work as a counselor for people with addictions, and possibly open up her own treatment clinic. Seeing both her mother and father suffer from drug addiction firsthand inspired McCall's passion, and now she's one step closer to attaining that goal.
There was no shortage of honored and distinguished graduates at the ceremony. The commencement featured the first class of students to receive doctorate degrees in educational technology leadership. All of the students, regardless of their level of degree, were proud of what they accomplished. One undergraduate, Nicholas Law, said he plans to use his new degree in math to get into teaching. "It feels really great to reach this part of my journey," Law said as he adjusted his graduation cap.
Some of NJCU's graduates also took the opportunity to show off their creativity by customizing their graduation caps. Law emblazoned his with a drawing of the iconic helmet of Star Wars character Boba Fett. Business major Dorcas Allen's cap asked the ceremony's attendees to "Put Some Respeck On (Her) Degree," a reference to a popular hip-hop-inspired Internet meme. The cap belonging to Max Weschsburg, now the owner of a finance degree, simply read: "Esto es pasa ti daddy lo Hicimosi," which translates to "This is for you dad, we did it." When asked how he felt about graduating, Weschsburg was succinct. "It's about time," he said with a smile.
The ceremony's keynote speaker, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Dr. Antonio R. Flores, spoke to the graduates about growing up in rural Mexico and becoming a long-standing figure in academia and the fight for equal rights.
Flores, like many of the ceremony's graduates, was a first generation college student, and he told the students that their experience in a diverse environment like NJCU has prepared them well for future experiences.
McCall, who received her bachelor's degree in sociology and anthropology with a 3.45 grade point average, started her collegiate career at Hudson Community College after her husband encouraged her to pursue her goals. She began her tenure at NJCU in 2014, and she readily admits it wasn't easy balancing school with work and children. There were often times she worked a 2-a.m.-to-noon shift and spent nearly the rest of the day at school. "I (had to) call my kids and talk to them on the phone, because by the time I get in they're sleeping," McCall said. Now McCall is the first college graduate in her family. Her work isn't over, as she'll be heading back to school in the fall for a master's degree in social work at Rutgers University. Yesterday however, she was just celebrating.
"It feels phenomenal (and) it's been a long time coming," McCall said. "I started my college journey when I was with my husband and he was always telling me 'You're gonna go to college, and get your degree, 'cause this is what you've been talking about doing.' "He's not here to bask in my glory with me, but at the same time I'm ecstatic," McCall added. "I'm happy. I'm every possible happy word you can think."
This article appeared in The Jersey Journal - May 12, 2016.