ATLANTIC CAPE/Graduates Sultana Zakia and Ibrihim Goodman at the 57th Annual Atlantic Cape Community College Commencement ceremony in Mays Landing, NJMAYS LANDING —Despite the rainy and windy conditions, hundreds of boisterous families, friends and loved ones gathered together to watch Atlantic Cape Community College award 904 associate’s degrees and 23 certificates to 927 students from ages 17 to 68 during the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony May 16 on the Mays Landing campus. Associate’s degrees were also conferred upon 47 high school seniors from Atlantic and Cape May counties taking part in Atlantic Cape’s Early College Program.

Dressed in their graduation regalia and topped off with uniquely-decorated mortarboard graduation caps, the sentiments expressed were indicative of the moment: “Very excited,” “Nervous,” “Amazing,” “Wonderful,” “Great,” “Long time coming,” “Anxious,” “Relieved,” “Pretty good,” “Scared,” “Awesome,” “Tired,” and “Ready for the next chapter.”

Atlantic Cape President Barbara Gaba, proudly standing on stage surrounded by members of the college’s Board of Trustees, Foundation board, President’s cabinet, staff and university partners, welcomed all in attendance to the festivities and commended each graduate on their tremendous accomplishments.

“You have shown incredible resilience from the first time you walked through the doors of your first class, through all of the challenges, to where you are today, here celebrating a milestone as you graduate with an associate’s degree or certificate,” Gaba said. “The skills you have learned will carry you on to the workplace or to another college or university where you will earn your bachelor’s degree.”

“Among our graduates today are our future nurses, healthcare professionals, biomedical scientists, chefs, business leaders, entrepreneurs, air traffic controllers, airplane and helicopter pilots, computer programmers, cybersecurity specialists and future careers that have yet to be imagined,” she said. “I have so much hope for our community and confidence in our future because I have seen the incredible things that these graduates have accomplished. If you believe in yourself, in your own skills and your own ability, you too will be successful.”

Outgoing Student Government Association President Sultana Zakia was born and raised in Bangladesh, an Asian nation that is home to more than 170 million people located to the east of India on the Bay of Bengal. She overcame the culture shock of moving to America and successfully learned to speak the English language in a relatively short period of time. At Atlantic Cape, she took on a leadership role by becoming the president of the SGA during her sophomore year and was also president of the Cross-Cultural and Muslim Student Associations as well.

Zakia, who received an associate in science degree in Biomedical Science, will be attending Rowan University as a Biological Science major this fall. She spoke on behalf of the college’s student body.

“Atlantic Cape has taught me the essence of leadership and professionalism, shaping us into the individuals we are today. As I reflect on my journey, not so long ago, I often questioned my abilities. However, the support and encouragement I received here helped me believe in myself and I embraced the role of a student leader,” Zakia said during her commencement remarks. “Today, I stand before you, and my fellow graduates, to celebrate our collective achievements. Each one of you has shown incredible dedication and effort. Be proud of yourself for the hard work and perseverance you have displayed towards your education.”

4.0 Honors Student representative Abigail Tomasso, who received an associate in applied science degree in Hospitality Management, spoke on behalf of the 24 other graduates who earned a perfect grade point average.

“I am deeply grateful to the dedicated faculty and staff at Atlantic Cape. From professors, advisors and support staff, each member of this community has contributed to maintaining an environment where students can flourish and grow,” said Tomasso. “Let us take a moment to reflect on the journey that has brought us here. Let us cherish the late-night study sessions, the anxiety-filled presentations and the valuable lessons learned along the way. Each challenge has molded us into the resilient, capable individuals we are today.”

Keynote speaker Brian Bridges, secretary of higher education for the State of New Jersey, spoke to the graduates about remembering the struggles they have overcome and the mentors who helped them along the way to looking ahead at the difficult journey that awaits while understanding that they are prepared to handle whatever situations may stand in their way.

“If there is one thing I hope you take away from today it is that we are forged by our unique life struggles and challenges. By overcoming them, we have the capacity to turn what some may consider a burden into our greatest opportunities and strengths,” said Dr. Bridges. “There have been teachers, mentors, friends and others who have molded you in ways you didn’t realize at the time. They poured into you, knowledge, inspiration and wisdom that has helped you blossom into the graduate you are today.”

Bridges is responsible for policy development and coordination of higher education activities for the State. He also coordinates strategic initiatives, informed by the State Plan for Higher Education, to enhance postsecondary opportunity with a focus on equity, access and affordability for students from all backgrounds. As part of Governor Murphy’s administration, Dr. Bridges has supported expansion and development of statewide programs such as the state’s Community College Opportunity Grant and the Educational Opportunity Fund.

“But, do not think that your journey is complete. Know that obstacles await you because, let me tell you, this adulting thing is hard. I know that all of you, regardless of your status or age, will be challenged at some point in the future like you have never been challenged before. But, each of you are equipped with exactly the tools you need for success, tools that were crafted and honed right here at Atlantic Cape.”

Also, being recognized at this year’s commencement ceremony were the 2024 President’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients Christian Bolf  ̓93, Michael D’Angelo  ̓84, Dr. Terri-Lynn Hamby  ̓94 & ’98, Deborah Pellegrino  ̓92 and Dr. Antoinette Wilson ’84, and the Young Alumni Achievement recipient Latoya Mcglone  ̓17.

Categories: Downbeach

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

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