Bergen Grads Turn Their Tassels

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The 55th class of Bergen Community College graduates received their degrees during a morning ceremony on May 14 at MetLife Stadium.

Approximately 1,000 members of class of 2024 attended the College’s annual commencement exercises, which included graduates from August and December 2023 and May 2024.

More than 7,000 family, friends, faculty, staff and special guests attended the capstone event. Shiwa Yangzom served as the valedictorian, the top student in the class of 2024. Her remarks celebrated the ties that united Bergen graduates and offered advice from her grandfather, who traveled from Tibet to see her graduate.

“If you take a look around, every single one of us has come from different walks of life: first generation, parents, high school students, returning students, international students yet, today, we are united by a common thread: we have all laid down our roots at Bergen Community College,” she said before speaking in Tibetan. “The roots of peace and happiness lie in the soil of compassion and appreciation.”

Yangzom, of Fair Lawn, earned top billing in the class on the strength of a 4.0 GPA, her work as an academic coach and standing on the New Jersey All-State Academic Team. She will attend Johns Hopkins University this summer as an undergraduate researcher in their humanities laboratory. Yangzom plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics.

Graduates also included Cat Clayton, of Howell, who performed the national anthem, and Student Government Association President Kaylie Quezada, of Fort Lee, who led the class of 2024 in the ceremonial turning of their tassels. In total, more than 2,000 students earned degrees and certificates from Bergen over the past year. The College ranks No. 1 in New Jersey for associate degree graduates.

The Hon. Julien X. Neals, a federal judge serving the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, provided remarks as the event’s keynote speaker. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June 2021, Neals earned the distinction as the first federal judge seated during the Biden administration.

“May you know that you’re the generation of new leaders to remind us that we can’t listen while we speak,” he told the graduates. “Through listening to one another and discourse with each other we find truth, at this time, in this moment, today, when we need it most. The truth is: I believe in you and I believe that you are all that and more.”

In what has now become an annual tradition at commencement, the Bergen Community College Foundation closed the ceremony by randomly selecting three graduates in attendance to receive a $500 “send-off scholarship” to help them jumpstart their future plans. Graduates Brandon Oliff, Madison Adrianna Miret and Zachary Carter had their names randomly pulled for the awards. Inspired by the energy in the arena, Bergen President Eric M. Friedman, Ph.D., spontaneously sponsored a fourth scholarship - awarded to Myrna Kayal - before Foundation Chair Dan Foley and the Hon. Judge Neals did the same, pulling JB Xavier Jopia Abarquez and Robert Anton Pfautsch as the fifth and sixth random scholarship winners. When newly installed Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Andrew Tomko, Ph.D., returned to the microphone as the master of ceremonies, the graduates compelled him to sponsor a seventh scholarship. He obliged, pulling graduate Amanda Halliday’s name.

Retiring Professor Lou Ethel Roliston, Ph.D., opened the event as the grand marshal, with Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III and Bergen County Board of Commissioner Chair Germaine Ortiz also providing remarks.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

Photo Caption: Bergen Community College student Shiwa Yangzom addressed the class of 2024 as valedictorian.

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