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College Celebrated its 50th Annual Commencement May 31

From left, Salutatorian Sena Dzirasa and Valedictorian Pyetra Camargo
Essex County College President Emeritus A. Zachary Yamba at 2019 Commencement

As cheering family and friends looked on, nearly 1,200 Essex County College students received their hard earned Associate degrees as the College celebrated its 50th annual Commencement Friday, May 31. The ceremony was held in the Prudential Center, Newark.

Fighting back tears, Class Valedictorian and Criminal Justice major Pyetra Camargo began her address, “I want to start off by thanking my mom (Nordia). My mother is a courageous

From left: Board of Trustees Chair Thomas McDermott, Honorary Degree recipient Dr. Irene Cooper-Basch, ECC President Dr. Munroe and Trustee Vice Chair Johanna Wright

woman who crossed borders so that I could cross this stage today. I also want to thank my sister (Paolla) – because I don’t think I thank her enough – for sacrificing so much for me.” Pyetra is from Brazil who has transferred to Saint Peter’s University where she is majoring in Political Science.

ECC President Emeritus A. Zachary Yamba, who was part of the College’s original faculty in 1968, saluted the graduates as the “Golden Class. You will always have a special place in Essex County College’s history.” Dr. Yamba recalled the early days of the College, during a time when the Civil Rights movement was sweeping Newark and the nation. “ECC was one of the new beginnings of Newark as the city came out of the ashes.”

Dr. Yamba also paid tribute to the faculty members who have been serving students at ECC for 50 years. They are Professors A. Patricia Bartinique, Gerald Freedman, James Johnson, Gerald Savage, Robert Spellman, Ladylease White and Ned Wilson, who also served as Grand Marshal.  

ECC President Dr. Anthony E. Munroe, who presided over the ceremony, presented an Honorary Associate in Arts degree to Dr. Irene Cooper-Basch for her philanthropy, including her leadership as a champion for education. She is executive officer and secretary of the board of the charitable organization the Victoria Foundation. Noting many in the class are the first in their families to attend college, she said, “You are blazing a trail for your loved ones to follow.”

Dr. Cooper-Basch then introduced opera singer Kevin Maynor, with deep Newark roots, who performed the spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead to the approving audience.  

In his message to the graduates, Dr. Munroe said, “Continue to ask questions. You don’t have to know everything; just know what resources or help you need in order to get to where you want to go.”

Chair of the Board of Trustees Thomas McDermott also noted the significance of the Golden Anniversary class. “This is an historic class. Be proud of your success and move confidently into the next phase of your lives.”

Sena Dzirasa, a Mathematics major who served as class Salutatorian, is transferring to Rutgers University-New Brunswick, where she will major in Mathematics and minor in Economics.

Class of 2019 Assistant Marshals, who had the honor of leading the processional into the arena, are Zabida Isahawk, Business Administration and Emmanuella Quain, Paralegal Studies.

The youngest graduate of the Class of 2019 was Damilola Ademoye, 17, a Liberal Arts major. Luis Felix, a Paralegal Studies major, received a sustained round of applause as the oldest graduate at 73.

As she concluded her address to her classmates, Pyetra said, “For many of us, Essex County College was the only institution that welcomed us with open arms – and that is something to be proud of. Be proud to have graduated today from an institution that believes that education is not a privilege reserved for a select few but a human right to be guaranteed to all. 

“To the Class of 2019 – my wish for you all is that you leave here today and become the change that is desperately needed in this world. Do not let borders, or any other social construct, stop you from realizing your wildest dreams. “