MAYS LANDING — The more than 700 students receiving associate’s degrees Thursday from Atlantic Cape Community College were told to keep striving for excellence, for education and for personal fulfillment during the 51st annual commencement ceremony.

“The journey ahead that’s full of astonishment is waiting for you to be explored, so grasp this moment in your heart, and carry it to the day you will become that one person who leaves a deep mark in the world,” student speaker My N. Nguyen, who received her associate’s degree in biomedical science with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

This year’s ceremony was held outdoors, but guests and graduates were able to find reprieve from steady rain thanks to tents set up over the chairs and podium.

Lori Herndon, president and CEO of AtlantiCare, delivered the keynote address to the graduates, retelling the hospital’s mantra of the starfish story, adapted from the essay, “The Star Thrower.”

“Life is full of choices. Being determined to make a difference is a worthy goal,” Herndon said.

She said that each student graduating was given his or her own starfish to serve as a reminder of the message.

Student Government Association President Lidangela Guzman-Palcious also addressed her classmates, urging them to continue their education.

“Today is the first step of your future educational career,” she said. “What will you do next?”

Guzman-Palcious told the graduates it doesn’t matter, as long as they do something “that makes you happy, makes you a better person, and no matter what you do, you do it with love and a positive mindset.”

During the ceremony, Atlantic Cape President Barbara Gaba asked all the audience members who had attended or graduated the community college to stand and be recognized. To the graduates, Gaba said keep Atlantic Cape a part of their lives.

“This is only the first of many milestones in your lives,” she said. “We are with you 100 percent.”

This was the third graduation ceremony at Atlantic City this week. Earlier in the week, the college recognized program completions for the 35 Academy of Culinary Arts graduates and 86 nursing students.

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I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.