MAYS LANDING — It was so hot Thursday, Atlantic Cape Community College commencement speaker Stephen Dunn cut short his speech.
“It’s hot up here, too,” he said to cheers from the graduates and their families as the temperature approached 90 and the college’s education association ran out of bottled water for thirsty guests.
A member of the college’s first graduating class in 1968, Dunn, a native of Atlantic City, reminisced about his time at the college 50 years ago, when tuition cost just $400 per year and classes were held at the old Atlantic City High School.
Now retired, Dunn went on to become an assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College but said he never forgot the lessons he learned at Atlantic Cape.
“It all began right here,” he said.
Student speaker Paolina Holman, 53, of Egg Harbor City, recalled how she planned to attend college but started working, then had a family and put college on the back burner for 30 years. She decided to return to college after her two older daughters graduated with honors, but admitted it was an adjustment.
“The path to graduation has not been an easy ride,” she said. “I think I speak for all when I say the cares of life do not stop because you have to study for a test. Still, we have met our responsibilities with diligence.”
Atlantic Cape’s new President Barbara Gaba said the 921 students eligible for graduation represent the largest class ever at the college.
She cited the vision of those who started the community college, and the impact the college has had, with about 225,000 alumni since it opened.
“Since I have arrived, I have heard stories from students of how the college has transformed their lives,” Gaba said. “You are all ambassadors for the college.”
Six alumni — Dr. Robert Vogel, of Savannah, Georgia, Dr. Brian Kirchner, of Absecon, MaryAnne Figueroa, of Hammonton, Chef Joseph Sheridan, of Somers Point, Dr. Carole Dieterly, of Beringsville, Pennsylvania, and Kimberly Richardson, of Mays Landing — received Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Rita Michalenko, of Mays Landing, received the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Excellence Award. Stephen Nehmad, of Egg Harbor Township, received the Distinguished Foundation Board Member Award.