STOCKTON UNIVERSITY/Stockton University President Joe Bertolino offers remarks during the May 7 Doctoral and Master’s Degree Commencement Ceremony.

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – Community and relationships transformed the lives of the students graduating with master’s and doctoral degrees, President Joe Bertolino told the graduates and crowd of families and supporters in the Stockton University Sports Center Tuesday May 7.

“What I’ve learned is life and success are all about relationships. These relationships build communities of opportunity. My charge to all of you is to be the leaders who build communities of opportunity wherever it is you are headed next,” Bertolino said. “In your life, personally and professionally, pay it forward by mentoring a student or colleague, sharing constructive feedback, and supporting those around you. Take a chance on someone; you never know what kind of impact you can have by being there, offering a kind word, or making a connection.”  

This year’s Doctoral and Master’s Ceremony honored 326 graduates, including 32 candidates who earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy, 14 who earned a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership and seven who earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and 273 who received master’s degrees in 15 disciplines including Social Work, Criminal Justice, Counseling, Environmental Science, Coastal Zone Management, Data Science and Strategic Analytics, Business Administration, Business Administration in Healthcare Administration and Leadership, American Studies, Education, Instructional Technology, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Communication Disorders, Nursing and Occupational Therapy.

Casey Berchtold

Student speaker Casey Berchtold ’22, ’24 of Galloway Townshipo, emphasized two things she learned from  her Stockton community.

“One, do not fear failure. The other, to be kind to those around you, for it makes a greater impact than we know. Throughout my academic journey, I’ve been surrounded by the tapestry of kindness that spans every corner of Stockton, a testament to the spirit of our campus community. Acts of kindness, big and small, have a profound impact on our lives and the lives of others,” said Berchtold, who earned her master’s of Criminal Justice. “Graduates, I encourage you to cultivate a legacy of collective compassion wherever you go, rooted in the understanding that our most significant contributions to the world are measured not by our achievements, but by the kindness we share and the communities we uplift.”

Elizabeth Rivera

Elizabeth Rivera ’22, ’24 of Hazlet, graduating with a Master of Arts in Instructional Technology, shared her own story of triumph during the ceremony.

“I am honored to be here because I was not supposed to. After all, I was a 1-pound-preemie who was later diagnosed with autism, predicted to never be able to walk, talk or be able to attend college or hold a job,” she said.

“We chose a university where our professors embraced us, took us under their wing, and fueled our dedication for learning. Our professors took the time to craft fun learning journeys that accommodated our strengths, weaknesses and needs. My professors made me feel like my autism was not a barrier, but a unique asset bolstered by my interest in learning,” Rivera said.

Faculty speaker Mary Kientz, associate professor of Occupational Therapy, also reminded graduates they are lifelong learners who should “find ways to engage with your community and find ways to give back and support others.

“Learn from colleagues in and out of your profession, learn from others who have different perspectives, backgrounds or lifestyles. Stay open-minded to new ideas. Learn from your mistakes,” she said.

“The next thing to remember is to be flexible and adaptable. Our world is rapidly changing with new technologies that are sure to impact how and where we do our jobs. Don’t be afraid of new things and new challenges. When new opportunities arise, step through that door and down a new path,” Kientz said.

This year’s Doctoral and Master’s Ceremony honored 326 graduates on Tuesday May 7.

Stockton Board of Trustees Chair Nelida Valentin ’86, welcomed the graduates as alumni and encouraged them to remain involved with Stockton and its Alumni Association.

Lois Spitzer, associate professor of Teacher Education, who was Grand Marshal at the ceremony, was awarded Professor Emeriti status.

Stockton’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremonies will take place at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Friday, May 10, at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. About 2,000 students are eligible to participate and more than 10,000 guests are expected.

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.