Bergen Community College Valedictorian Maciej Szajwaj.

PARAMUS, N.J. – Thousands of Bergen Community College graduates, their families, friends and those from around the world watched the institution’s virtual commencement live stream event on YouTube May 18, hearing the graduates’ names called, a keynote address from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D – NJ) and well-wishes from Bergen faculty and staff. Thousands of additional social media followers shared photos, memories and videos using #BergenGrad.

“Class of 2020, you are going to do amazing things,” New Jersey’s first African-American senator, Booker, said. “But life is not about a destination, it’s about what you bring to the journey – and I hope you bring your power. Your power of love. That’s what this world needs right now – it needs light in darkness.”

The class of 2020 featured more than 2,000 candidates for graduation, including valedictorian Maciej Szajwaj, a nursing student with a 4.0 GPA who has worked as an emergency medical technician during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Bergen has provided me and so many other students the opportunity to pursue higher learning in a way many of us never thought possible,” Szajwaj, of Wallington, said during the event. “One of my biggest life lessons while on this journey through nursing school is the ability to adapt and be flexible. We have been pushed out of our classroom borders and into our new virtual classrooms based on the comfort of our couch, bedrooms and kitchen tables. Even though we are not walking across the stage dressed in our graduation cap and gown, the significance and memory of this day will go down in history and be a reminder of the time period in which we lived and of how we came together – all while being six-feet apart.”

Student Government President Bernadette Duran spoke at the ceremony, too, offering a reflection on self and place.

“Bergen became our home; it became our escape; it became our sanctuary when things in our life weren’t going right,” Duran, of Bergenfield, said. “As much as it hurts to say goodbye to the friends that we’ve made and to the memories we cherish, know that if you want to change the world, you have to leave home.”

Bergen Interim President Tony Ross, Ed.D., served as the master of ceremonies, while Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III and Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chair Mary Amoroso provided remarks. Nursing professor Carmen Cruz-Torres, who has spent her non-teaching days working as a per diem nurse taking care of high-risk obstetric patients and screening for COVID-19 at St. Joseph’s Family Health Center, opened the ceremony as grand marshal. Bergen Board of Trustees Chair Gerard L. Carroll and Vice President of Academic Affairs Brock Fisher, Ph.D., also spoke at the ceremony; respiratory therapy class of 2020 graduate Kerianne Villareal performed the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The College presented commencement 2020 as the most global, most social and most unique graduation ceremony in its history with social distancing guidelines effectively cancelling the in-person celebration originally scheduled for MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. The online format provided advantages, though, including the ability to watch in real-time with family and friends, social media chat capabilities and cover from outdoor elements that have complicated matters for Bergen’s large commencement ceremonies (including rain and heat in recent years). Graduates also submitted photos and messages to include as part of the ceremony as well. The event will remain on Bergen’s YouTube page for those who missed the live stream.

Bergen’s first commencement ceremony took place in 1970. Since its inception, Bergen has grown into the state’s largest community college with approximately 13,000 students taking classes this semester. The College ranks No. 1 in New Jersey for associate degree graduates.

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.
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