Scenes from the 2014 Graduation: the Parents Cried and the Students Cheered

More than 2,600 students graduated from NJIT on May 20.

Every graduation ceremony is filled with poignant moments. NJIT's ceremony was especially so.

Thousands of parents arrived at the Prudential Center to watch the 2,649 students receive their degrees. There were tears of joy and cheers of jubliation as the parents watched their children, now men and women, walk the aisle and mount the stage. Cameras clicked as the students reached for the diplomas that will be their passports to good jobs, better futures and, with a bit of luck, happiness. 

Here are just a few scenes from the ceremony -- fragments that, once pieced together, will give you a sense of what the day was like for the students, their parents and their loved ones.

The Father

William Williams came to see his son, Jameel, graduate. As he sat watching the ceremony, Williams reflected on the past. Time moves so swiftly, he said. It felt like only yesterday that Jameel was a boy, playing hide and seek in the backyard. Back then, Williams never imagined that his son would grow up to graduate from a prestigious university. So on this day Williams was “elated” -- proud and happy for Jameel, who majored in international business and has a good job at City National Bank in Newark, his hometown.  He has a bright future, and for that Williams is grateful. But on this day, at this moment, he said he couldn’t help flashing back to the past, remembering when Jameel was just a boy, at play in the yard, laughing with the carefree abandon of boyhood. 

“Only yesterday he was a little boy,” said Williams, looking out over the rows of graduates arrayed in their black gowns and caps. “But now he’s a man. Now he’s turning the tassel. Now the future opens up for him.”

The Festooned Caps

Caps and gowns make graduates all look alike.  But some NJIT grads called upon their design and engineering skills to distinguish themselves by festooning their caps with clever phrases. There were dozens of funny hats but here are a few examples:

“Oh The Places You’ll Go…Next Stop Charlotte! (This graduate will be attending law school in Charlotte).

Several of the hats gave thanks to the students’ beneficiaries, i.e., their parents:

“Thanks Mom & Dad” and “mama I made it!” and “I Love You Mom and Dad,” were just three examples of the genre.

Some hats expressed optimism, “She Believed She Could, So She Did,” others expressed wry humor: “It’s About Time,” while still another issued a comic irony: “That Was Easy, Said No One 2014.”

The Wise Professor

Angelo Perna, a long-time professor at NJIT, has attended 47 graduation ceremonies. He always comes early and sits in the top row, so he can peer down and see the graduates in all their robed splendor, their many-colored scarves – red and yellow, purple and blue – making them look, to his eyes, like flora.  

“Wearing those colored stoles makes the graduates look like beds of flowers,” said Perna, a professor of chemical engineering.  “And they are flowers -- they are blooming into maturity. They are ready for the challenges of the real world. I know they are because I taught them, thousands of them over the last 47 years. It’s a great day, perfect weather, and now I look forward to next year’s graduation,” he said, smiling widely as he walked out of the arena and into the sunlight of a perfect day.  

The Graduate

It took Chris Sam seven years to graduate from NJIT. He switched majors a few times until he found his groove in industrial engineering.  He also worked hard to contend with a learning disability (ADHD). Two years ago, he joined a panel of  students who discussed their disabilities and how they  overcame them. The panel spoke before a national corporate convention. A representative from Cisco was in the audience that day and afterwards approached Chris, an adept public speaker, and encouraged him to apply for a Cisco internship. Chris applied and got it. He did so well that Cisco offered him a full-time job, which he’ll start this summer, working as a program manager in the company's supply chain unit. He’s eager to move out to San Jose and begin working. And he's eternally grateful to all the people at NJIT (EOP, the NJIT Counseling Center, his professors and fellow students) who helped him cope with his disability. Asked how he felt to finally be graduating from NJIT, Chris offered this:

“It feels good to complete one goal but now I’m onto another, “said Chris, who belonged to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at NJIT, which he calls his second family.  “But over the years I realized that life is a journey, not a destination, and I’m still on that journey.” 

The Dancers

After the ceremony, the students, and their loved ones, gathered outside the Prudential Center. The surrounding streets were closed to traffic and quickly filled with the graduates, who posed for photos and hugged each other and their families and clasped their friends. One large family brought a portable sound system with them. They turned it on and soon the plaza filled with Arabic music. The family stood in a line, linked arms, and danced the Dabke, an Arabic folk dance.  In that line was graduate Senator Naser, who after the dance was over said his family’s spontaneous eruption of joy was a thrill, one he’ll never forget. 

“When they danced I saw the happiness in their eyes,” said Senator, who already has a great job at Cognizant, an IT firm in Teaneck.  “And to see them so happy made me happy. I never expected such happiness on this beautiful day.”


By Robert Florida