Demetri Thurman, the "baby by a minute," with his diploma.
Ayman Moussa sat in the front row, the lens of his camera trained on his daughter, Irene. She sat 10 feet away from him, on the floor of the Prudential Center, with thousands of other black-gowned graduates.
“Hey bata,” he called to her, and when eventually she turned to him he snapped a dozen photos in rapid succession, capturing every inflection of her mood. Bata is a term of endearment in Egyptian, meaning something akin to my little duckling. And on this momentous day, he could not be more proud of his little duckling.
“I remember the day that she was born,” Ayman said. “I’m so proud of all she achieved at NJIT. I want to capture every moment of her graduation. I love her so much. She’s my little princess -- and, of course, my bata.”
Irene was happy that her father was happy. And she was happy that she was graduating, too. And though she had embroidered onto her cap the phrase, Be the Change, she conceded that the change she was undergoing now, from student to graduate, baffled her. She has a good job lined up at Saint Gobain, a plastics company in Wayne, N.J. And she exelled as chemical engineering major at NJIT. So why the bafflement?
“Now that I’m graduating I’m worried about what my purpose is,” she said, smiling as her father took dozens more photos of her smile. “I go through existential crisis all the time. All I know is that I should Be the Change, which is why I put those words on my cap.”
On May 17, NJIT conferred nearly 2,900 bachelor, master’s and doctoral degrees during its 100th Commencement exercises. The ceremony was held at Newark’s Prudential Center, a large sports arena, where thousands of parents, loved ones and friends of graduates filled the stands. They came from as far away as Nigeria, Egypt, and Ghana to watch the ceremony, which was also live streamed by people in 50 countries.
NJIT is a rigorous university where students spend endless hours on their equations, lab reports, and class projects. To make it thought NJIT is no small undertaking: it takes a lot of self sacrifice and hard work, from both the students and their parents. So when graduation finally arrives, it’s a momentous occasion, for both the students and their parents.
The Proudest Mother:
Joyce Thurman didn’t have far to travel to see her son graduate. She’s from Newark. She left her house early to get a front row seat near to her son Demetri, who was sitting with the graduates. Demetri is a twin whose older brother (older by one minute) Darius, graduated from NJIT this past winter and is now studying for an advanced degree in France. So she was doubly proud, and doubly excited. As she watched the ceremony she bounced on her toes, tightly clasping a tissue in the palm of her hand. She was so worked up, she couldn’t stop talking. Here is what she said:
“I’m a North Carolina girl, country girl, can’t you tell by my accent?” I grew up poor. Big family: 10 brothers and sisters. Shack for a house, lived on a farm. But both my sons have graduated from a great university, NJIT. I thank Lord Jesus for that. I’m so happy I don’t know what to do.”
But she knew precisely what her family intended to do after the ceremony. They had reservations at Casa Vasco, a Spanish restaurant in the Ironbound section of Newark known for serving ample portions of seafood with ice-filled pitchers of sangria.
“We are going to celebrate like there’s no tomorrow,” she said.
Asked what he intended to do after the ceremony, Demetri, a chemical engineering major, said his plans differed from his mother’s in one respect.
“I need to stop home real quick and check my grades,” he said. “I have half my grades, but I’m still waiting for the others. I worked real hard this semester so I want to see how I end up.”
As he spoke his mother adoringly watched him, still standing, still bouncing on her toes. And as a tear zigzagged down her cheek, she recounted the beginning -- and the end.
“Demetri was born at 1:21 p.m. and Darius at 1:20 p.m., so Demetri is my baby by a minute,” she said. “And now he’s graduating. I’m the proudest mother in all of God’s creation.”
A Mother and a Graduate
Sally Furcal is both: a mother and a graduate. She sat with her fellow graduates, while her 6-year old daughter, Rosalyn, sat in the stands with her grandparents -- Sally's parents. She talked about how hard it was for her to complete a civil engineering degree -- working part-time while studying full time and being a full-time mother.
But it paid off. Sally also has a good job lined up. In a few weeks, she’ll begin her career at Pennoni, an engineering construction firm. And she intends to return to NJIT for a master’s degree in civil engineering. She admitted she’s not sure how she’ll use her newfound free time -- a luxury she hasn't indulged for four years. But she knows one luxury she’ll be certain to indulge.
“Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep,” she said, elongating the vowel for dramatic effect. “After so many sleepless nights, I can finally sleep.”
Sally’s daughter, Rosalyn, said she was proud of her mother. And she said when she gets older she too wants to attend NJIT, a remark that made her mother smile: “She’ll be the second generation at NJIT,” said Sally, “a family tradition.”
But then Rosalyn was quick to add this final thought.
“What I’m most happy about," she said, softly in her little girl's voice, "is that now my mom can help me with my homework.”
Robert Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org)