The University recognized 417 students for both Bachelors and Masters degrees at Winter Commencement on January 18 in the Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC).
It also granted the Pollak award to Sheriff Shaun Golden for his service to Monmouth County during Hurricane Sandy and awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts to Jon Kilik, who produced The Hunger Games as well as many other movies.
The day began with a luncheon for selected invitees, including: Sheriff Shaun Golden; Kilik; Brian Larco the president of the class of 2013; Oscar Sanchez, president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and Kelly Craig, vice president of the debate team. President Paul G. Gaffney II went on his way through the crowd of guests, personally greeting those in attendance.
After the luncheon, the selected members at the luncheon made their way to the MAC in order to prepare for the commencement. The ceremony area quickly filled with hundreds of friends and family members who had come out to watch the class members receive their diplomas or to support those who were speaking at the event. It took just under half an hour to get everyone seated.
Once the soon-to-be graduates entered, the national anthem had been sung and the indication had been delivered, Gaffney welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. In addition to the customary things given to the friends, family and other associates of the University, he smiled and thanked all of the members of “District 12” for having come to the ceremony. Following this, Robert B. Sculthorpe, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, gave his greetings, during which he noted ways he has seen students being exemplary citizens and urged them to continue doing this. “To reach out and help those in need is a leadership at its best,” Sculthorpe said. “You have learned to disagree without being disagreeable. Do not be discouraged by the gloom and doom that seems to permeate the world today.”
Following Sculthorpe, Larco stood behind the podium to greet his fellow members of the class of 2013. He gave an opening thanks, followed by, “Some today might add, ‘I’d like to thank Google, Wikipedia, and whoever the hell invented copy and paste.’” He went on to congratulate the class for their accomplishments and to encourage them to pursue a bright future.
After this, Golden received the Maurice Pollak Award for Distinguished Community Service, an award unique to the University that celebrates the accomplishment of somebody who demonstrates extreme dedication to the area around them and the people who live in it. He was more than excited to be recognized in this way.
“I really do appreciate it and I am so humbled,” Golden said. He has been a public servant for 25 years, during which time he has also been a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
In an interview, Golden also commented, “Monmouth University is great. It filled a tremendous need [during the hurricane]. It was a pleasure and honor to work with President Gaffney.” He went on to say that his efforts were really a part of his job. Golden spent the first four days after the hurricane hit away from his home, sleeping at the Emergency Operation Center in Freehold as he helped to coordinate recovery and relocation efforts.
Once Golden had received his award, the time had come to bestow upon Kilik an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, honoris causa. This New Jersey native, who currently resides in New York City where he lives his dream, is a movie producer whose films have received twenty-seven Oscar nominations. His film Babel won a Golden Globe for best picture in 2007 and his film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly won a Golden Globe for best foreign film in 2008.
Kilik began his speech by discussing what life was like when he was young. “I will always remember that it was here in New Jersey where I found encouragement, self-confidence and lifelong friends who I still turn to today. TV was free. Time with her dad was priceless. Summer was forever.”
Kilik began his educational career as “an average student with an interest in telling stories to film and photography” and added that “one teacher was able to wake me up and encourage me to follow my dream.” After graduating from the University of Vermont he moved to New York City, though he did not have a job or place to say. In time, he was able to find a position as a production assistant thanks to an alumnus from his university. In this job, he stood “on the corner of Bleecker and McDougall streets at 3 o’clock in the morning, asking the denizens of Greenwich Village to ‘please cross to the other side of the street, we’re making a movie’.”
Despite his initial struggles and harsh reviews for his first production, he said, “There is a Tibetan saying, ‘even if you fail at something nine times, you have still give it effort nine times.’ I think it’s important to remember that and to have patience and optimism and determination.”
“With The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins has created not science fiction but an allegory that reflects the world we live in. Obviously the U.S. is not Panem and high school is not the games, but the book taps into the powerlessness, frustration, and desire for freedom, change, justice, and meeting that many young people today feel,” Kilik said. “One of the main values of art is to stimulate our imaginations and inspire us to reconsider just who we are and what we believe. We will never find the world perfect as it is. There is no utopia. But we can go beyond our personal desires and make life for us and for others better than it is now. We need freethinkers, and we need to protect them so that their ideas are given a hearing on the world stage.”
In closing, Kilik said, “As big as the challenges are today, you are ready for them. You’re better educated, more globally aware and more socially conscious than any generation before you. And now it’s your time to use your energy and skills. Stay in touch with each other and with this university. As your classmates grow in their fields, you will grow with them in yours. They are the ones to partner with. At the same time, don’t let the world consume you. Don’t lose sight of the beauty around you. Take time to smell the roses and get some roses. I have faith in you.”
With that, the students rose to accept their diplomas, spread their wings and take off to the next stages of their lives.
PHOTOS COURTESY of Blaze Nowara