RVCC Awards Degrees, Certificates to Close to 1,300 Graduates

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
RVCC graduates at the College's 48th spring commencement

Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) awarded associate degrees and certificates to close to 1,300 graduates at its commencement, held Saturday, May 13, in the Gymnasium at the College’s Branchburg Campus.

The Honorable Thomas H. Kean, who served as Governor of New Jersey from 1982-1990, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission and President of Drew University, delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree during the ceremony.

The program featured RVCC student commencement speaker Joseph (Joe) Hamilton of Fanwood, formerly of Bridgewater. Hamilton is a married father with a toddler and stepson who first started his college journey at RVCC 10 years ago after graduating from Bridgewater-Raritan High School. Hamilton struggled academically and didn’t know what he wanted to study. After taking a break for several years, Hamilton says his life and priorities changed when he met his now wife who had a young child. He decided education was really his passion, so he returned to RVCC. His grades improved dramatically, and Hamilton even made Dean’s List his past two semesters at RVCC. Hamilton plans to continue his studies and eventually teach high school social studies or science.

Thomas Valasek of Clinton, Professor of Communication & Film Studies, delivered the faculty commencement address. Valasek, who is retiring after 48 years with the College, has taught classes in three different academic departments and has been instrumental in developing RVCC's Communication Studies and Film Studies programs. His academic achievements include Princeton Mid-Career Fellowships and international research exchanges and a J. William Fulbright Fellowship to the Czech Republic. His books include The Confident Speaker's Handbook and Frameworks: An Introduction to Film Studies. Valasek has served as an academic Department Chair multiple times and as Interim Dean of Faculty.

The other graduates speaking during commencement included Jenna Douglas, Juan Prada-Ojeda and Kristine Bulava. Bulava, a resident of Basking Ridge who came to the US from Latvia to work as an au pair, delivered a welcome to the graduates. She recently was named a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact for her service learning work, and she was honored by the New Jersey Council of County Colleges as one of the state’s top community college students during its annual Phi Theta Kappa Day celebration. The General Business major has organized fundraising events for the hungry and displaced as Vice President of Scholarship and Service for the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. As President of RVCC’s Enactus club, she taught disadvantaged youth how to operate a small business.

Jenna Douglas of Bridgewater, a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School, introduced Governor Kean. The Social Science major, who is enrolled in RVCC’s Honors College, has excelled academically at RVCC and has been named to both the President’s List and Dean’s List. Douglas served as a Student Ambassador and a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Rotaract Club. She also traveled with Rotaract to Nepal in January to distribute donated school supplies and engage in community projects.

Juan Prada-Ojeda of Hillsborough, a native of Colombia, is an Engineering Science major who started his education at RVCC taking English as a Second Language classes. Prada-Ojeda, who is graduating Summa Cum Laude, introduced the faculty speaker. Prada-Ojeda is a Galileo Scholar and member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society who has received several awards including the Vincent Bodino Math Achievement Award and the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Mentor Award. He was a member of the College’s Cross Country team.

This year’s class includes the first cohort of 11 students graduating from the Somerville Academy for Liberal Arts (SALA), a partnership between Somerville High School and RVCC. Launched in fall 2013, the Academy offers students in grades 9-12 the opportunity to earn both a Somerville High School diploma and an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from RVCC. Students in the full-time program take classes at both their high school and at RVCC. The graduates will be transferring to a number of prestigious four-year colleges and universities including Tufts University, Drexel University, the University of Massachusetts and Drew University.

As Governor, Tom Kean was rated among America’s most effective state leaders by Newsweek magazine; noted for tax cuts that spurred 750,000 new jobs; a federally replicated welfare reform program; landmark environmental policies; and more than 30 education reforms. He delivered the keynote address at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Kean was re-elected for a second term by the largest margin in state history. While Governor, he served on the President’s Education Policy Advisory Committee and as Chair of the Education Commission of the States and the National Governors Association Task Force on Teaching. He remains one of the most popular governors in New Jersey’s history.

In December 2002, Kean was named by President George W. Bush to head the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. The Commission’s work culminated in July 2004 with the release of the 9/11 Commission Report, which quickly became a national bestseller. Its recommendations resulted in the largest intelligence reform in the nation’s history. Kean served as the Chairman of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a nonprofit entity created with private funds to continue the Commission’s work of guarding against future attacks.

Kean served as President of Drew University from 1990-2005. During his 15-year tenure, he focused on shaping Drew into one of the nation’s leading small liberal arts universities by stressing the primacy of teaching, the creative use of technology in the liberal arts, and the importance of international education. During Kean’s Presidency, applications to Drew increased by more than 40 percent; the endowment nearly tripled; and over $60 million was committed to construction of new buildings and renovation of older buildings, principally student residence halls.

Kean headed the American delegation to the UN Conference on Youth in Thailand, served as Vice Chairman of the American delegation to the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and served as a member of President Clinton’s Initiative on Race. He also served on the National Endowment for Democracy. Kean currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Carnegie Corporation of New York.



May 13, 2017

Media contact: Donna Stolzer, 908-526-1200, ext. 8383

PR# 168