GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Hundreds of moms celebrated Mother’s Day Sunday by watching their children graduate from Richard Stockton College in two commencement ceremonies.
But for nursing graduate Lacey Reger and her mom, Jan Reger, both of Hammonton, the morning commencement held a surprise gift. Lacey Reger’s brother, Zechariah, a fireman in the U.S. Coast Guard stationed in Bahrain, suddenly appeared as she walked off the stage with her diploma. He joined her in front of a green screen to have her portrait taken.
She couldn’t say anything when she first saw him, but seemed to be fighting back tears.
“I was really surprised,” said Lacey Reger, who plans a career as a critical care or trauma nurse. “I was hoping but didn’t think he was going to be able to be here.”
Her mom and dad, Ross Reger, had no idea their son was in the United States. Jan Reger said she saw him across a very crowded Sports Center as she walked in.
“I’m still shaking,” she said a few minutes after spotting him and having a short reunion, just before he was about to surprise her daughter. She hadn’t seen her son since last November, she said.
In her speech, valedictorian Rachael Wance, of Hamilton in Mercer County, compared graduating from college with climbing a mountain. It takes one step at a time, she said, as she found out when she climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire a couple of years ago. She wasn’t sure she could do it as she stood at the bottom, but she made it to the top of the tallest mountain in the Northeast by a rocky, steep route, she said.
Everyone graduating Sunday has reached the top of Mount Stockton, Wance said, remembering the all-nighters, Wawa trips and Lake Fred walks along the way. “Next we will climb an employment, graduate school or armed forces mountain. Luckily we are all experienced mountain climbers.”
Wance has enrolled in graduate school to become an elementary school speech therapist.
Poet and Stockton Professor Emeritus Stephen Dunn, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001 for his book, “Different Hours,” told the graduates to cultivate their souls as they enter the world of ambition and money making.
“I’m more interested in your souls than in your success in the big, demanding world of money and commerce, though the state of your souls may be very much related to such success,” Dunn said, adding he speaks of soul in a spiritual rather than religious way. “Our souls, uncultivated, are always in jeopardy.”
He recommended studying the story of Faust, who sells his soul to get ahead.
“There’s no doubt that during your lifetime you will be so tested,” said Dunn, who emphasized learning from failures as well as successes. “My favorite writer/philosopher Albert Camus said, ‘I never said I was a good man. I only try to be one.’“
But he also cautioned the graduates to be on the lookout for the smaller ways souls can be weakened, such as by overemphasis on social media and technology rather than face-to-face relationships.
And he left them with advice on persisting through failure.
“Fall down seven times, stand up eight,” he said in ending.
The morning commencement was for students in the schools of Arts and Humanities, Education, Business, General Studies and Health Sciences who were receiving bachelor’s degrees.
Provost and Executive Vice President Harvey Kesselman asked all mothers to stand and be recognized on Mother’s Day.
About half of the audience stood, as well as a significant minority of the female graduates.
Payal Majmundar, of Egg Harbor Township, graduated with degrees in public health and business, as mom Bela beamed.
“This is just perfect. It’s a gift for me that she is graduating,” Bela Majmundar said. Her son, Krunal, is a Stockton junior studying psychology.
The Reger family surprise was orchestrated by a group of people. Jan Reger’s brother, John Clee, of Tuckerton, was the only member of the family who knew Zechariah would be at graduation. Clee took Zechariah to buy a new dress uniform, so he wouldn’t have to get his from his parents’ home ahead of the ceremony, Clee said.
Stockton Associate Dean of Students Craig Stambaugh and Assistant Dean of Students Tom O’Donnell helped Zechariah keep his appearance under wraps.
Stockton also held an afternoon commencement for students receiving bachelor’s degrees from the School of Natural Sciences and the School of Scoial and Behavioral Sciences. The valedictorian in that ceremony was Daniel Favorito, a geology major from Galloway Township who will attend the University of Arizona in the fall for a master’s degree in geosciences studying economic geology.
The afternoon student speaker was Dominick Siconolfi, of Hammonton, one of two salutatorians. Siconolfi, who majored in biology and will attend medical school in the fall, shared the honor with biology major Cara Puzzio, of Manchester Township, Ocean County.
Kristin M. Gummoe, of Folsom, graduated with degrees in business studies with a concentration in international business, political science with a pre-law concentration, and language and cultural studies, with a concentration in Spanish. She plans to become an international business lawyer, and to get a master’s in business administration as well as a law degree, a college spokesperson said.
A total of 1,200 students graduated Sunday. Commencement for about 100 doctoral and master’s graduates was Thursday.
College President Herman Saatkamp could not attend Sunday, because he was called away to be with a member of his family who is seriously ill, Kesselman said.
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