Stockton sends 1,300 graduates off to navigate life’s ‘crooked road’ (Video, Slideshow)

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Students hold hands as a sign of oneness during the singing of the school song. Students hold hands as a sign of oneness during the singing of the school song. GALLOWAY – Stephen Dunn, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and a Stockton distinguished professor emeritus of creative writing, told graduates at Sunday’s commencement that what comes next should involve taking a chance on their ability to “navigate the crooked road.”


“I was the first in my family to go to college, and had I not gotten a basketball scholarship, that might not have happened,” Dunn said. “I was one of those serious-minded students – you might recognize the type – who didn’t know how to be a good student.”

He said he first experienced talk that was highly observant and nuanced from coach Van Breda Kolff at Hofstra, where he was an undergraduate. He said this “practical intelligence” about basketball led him eventually to bring Kolff’s careful discrimination to his history and English classes, not to mention to his life itself.

Dunn addressed graduates of the Schools of Arts and Humanities, Business, Education, General Studies and Health Sciences at the first of two commencement ceremonies held in the Sports Center of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey’s main Galloway campus.

More than 1,300 students received degrees in three commencement ceremonies at Stockton, including a master’s and doctoral graduation May 8.

Dunn said his inability to speak in public drove him to writing as a way of finding out and making sense of what he thought.

“I was good at only two things – basketball and writing – and when my jump shot started to fail, I was left with writing.”

He said he also discovered that writing “little love poems to girls” to get them to like him occasionally worked.

Dunn said many graduates find themselves in the limbo world of What Next?

“And having been in that world and also having taught at Stockton for over 35 years, I have no doubt that most of you are prepared for What Next, which means you are ready for the inevitable crooked path that awaits you.”

He said technology has many benefits, but urged the graduates not to confuse texting with intimacy or a true connection.

“Today you begin your own legacy, which I trust will add to Stockton’s. Good luck to you all,” he said, concluding with a Japanese proverb: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Commencement opening remarks were given by Stockton provost and Executive Vice President Harvey Kesselman, who called on all the mothers in the audience to stand and be recognized on Mother’s Day.

“Our students are promises we make to a future we will not see, and at this graduation, with these outstanding students, you can see that we are delivering on our promises,” he said. 

He told graduates, “It is still the case that more jobs are available for those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher than for any other degree. Indeed, New Jersey is ranked second in the nation for states creating jobs for college graduates.”

The morning ceremony featured a surprise for Lacey Reger of Hammonton, whose brother flew 17 hours from Bahrain to see her graduate. Zechariah Reger, a firefighter in the U.S. Coast Guard stationed in the Middle East, met his sister with roses as she came off the platform after receiving her nursing diploma.

Valedictorian Rachael Wance of Mercerville, who received a degree in speech pathology and audiology, told of climbing Mount Washington, the Northeast’s tallest mountain.

“The first day at Stockton was like standing at the base of Mount Washington – we looked up to graduation, but we didn’t know the challenges we may face to get there,” Wance said. “As we started the climb, we made small but meaningful steps. Each step we took should be treated as a success in itself, as they are all an essential part of where we are today.”

The salutatorian was Morgan Sinclair of Chadds Ford, Pa., also a speech pathology and audiology major.

Kesselman said college President Herman Saatkamp could not attend because of a family emergency and thanked the graduating class for its gift to the college, a Stockton tradition.

“This year the senior class has presented to us a large graphic of the Stockton ‘S’ logo for the coffee lounge in the Campus Center,” he said.

Students Breanna Prettus and Joseph Sramaty sang the alma mater, “Our Stockton,” with lyrics by Dunn and music was composed by Ellen Grolman, a cellist, educator and music reviewer. The vocal group Highest Praise led the singing of the national anthem earlier in the ceremony.

Anthony Cicatiello, co-founder and CEO of CN Communications and president of the Research and Development Council of New Jersey, spoke Sunday afternoon for the Schools of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Lori S. Herndon of Brigantine, president and chief executive officer of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center and executive vice president of AtlantiCare, gave the keynote address at the doctoral and master’s degree commencement May 8.

About 125 students received master’s and doctoral degrees. The college now has 14 graduate degree programs, serving more than 800 students.

Stockton trustee Stanley Ellis presented the Distinguished Service Award to Herndon, who is a 1992 nursing graduate of Stockton and a member of Stockton College Foundation Board. 

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