Graduates Urged to Take Advantage of Stockton Community


Stockton University held two ceremonies on May 10 at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for 2,000 graduates who received bachelor’s degrees.

Atlantic City, N.J. — Possibly more than any other graduating group of Stockton University students, the Class of 2024 knows the importance of building a strong community.

The university held two ceremonies, one at 9:30 a.m. and one at 2:30 p.m. on May 10 at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall for 2,000 graduates who received bachelor’s degrees.

Many of the students gathered for the ceremonies didn’t get a high school graduation. The COVID-19 pandemic discouraged gatherings of large groups of people and further isolated students by forcing classes online.

Maya VaughnMaya Vaughn, a Bachelor of Science graduate in Psychology with a minor in Behavioral Neuroscience, speaks to the audience during the morning Commencement ceremony.

“When we first met, we only knew what each other’s eyes looked like above our masks,” said Maya Vaughn, a Bachelor of Science graduate in Psychology with a minor in Behavioral Neuroscience, who spoke at the morning ceremony. “We’ve accomplished something so large and indescribable, something others can’t say they’ve done. No other generation of college students have experienced what we persevered through.”

Stockton President Joe Bertolino, in his first commencement address, acknowledged that many of the students’ high school graduation ceremonies “may have taken place on a screen — or not at all” and what they’ve gone through to get to this moment was “unprecedented.”

“Gosh, how annoying did that word become? But when thinking about what that word means, I think it’s a more fitting description for the Class of 2024,” he said.

He listed many other things that have happened in the world over the last four years and suggested that has taught the students how to adapt, find core values and stick to them, and remain motivated.

“You found your voice and used it to speak your mind and stand up for what you believe in,” Bertolino said. “Through all the trials and tribulations, you found and built your community. The people who supported you, laughed with you, and maybe cried with you. … These relationships matter.”

president joe bertolino

President Joe Bertolino greets Arthur Stone, a 1974 Stockton graduate who did not get to walk for his Commencement ceremony.

Keynote speaker Dave Sholler and the afternoon student speaker Elizabeth Myers also discussed the importance of building a community during their addresses to the Boardwalk Hall audience.

Sholler, a 2006 Stockton graduate, grew up in Egg Harbor Township in what he called “a broken home.”

“Poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, trauma all inflicted damage on our family,” said the chief communications officer for the Philadelphia 76ers and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. “For most of my young life, my three siblings and I battled obstacles that children should never face.”

Sholler talked about how his family dealt with several eviction notices from their trailer park home, a parent who struggled with substance abuse and nearly constant financial despair.

“The odds were stacked against us. Heavily. The stats said we’d repeat the cycle,” Sholler said about himself and his siblings. “But I stand before the Class of 2024 living proof that odds are made to be defied, that generational cycles are meant to be broken, and that while statistics may help predict future outcomes, they don’t predict all of them.”

He said that in his situation the statistics didn’t consider the most valuable set of data — “the power and value of community. The power of resilience, and the power of betting on yourself.”

“Along our journeys, we’ve had people extend a helping hand when we needed it most, even if we didn’t realize it,” he said. “For many like me, it was kind professors and administrators at Stockton who saw my potential, who invested time into getting to know my story, and who pushed me like hell to avoid repeating the cycle that I had been burdened with.”

dave sholler

Dave Sholler '06 was the keynote speaker at this year's Commencement ceremonies. Sholler is the chief communications officer for the Philadelphia 76ers and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment.

Sholler said the relationships he made and the education he received at Stockton helped him quickly rise from working in public relations with the Ultimate Fighting Championship to eventually his dream job with the 76ers.

“The power of community got me through tough times and inspired me to be better. My time at Stockton reaffirmed that belief. And it propelled me in my career. I’m willing to bet it will do the same for you,” he said.

Myers credited the Stockton community, her friends in the Literature program and her mother with helping get her to where she is today.

“No one among us is an island. We draw strength from each other, and share our success as a community,” said the Bachelor of Arts graduate in Literature. “We hold in our hands now what is perhaps the most valuable thing a person can possess, a driving force for empowerment on a societal scale: an education. And with that education, a passion. A sense of intellectual curiosity. A drive to see the world for what is and to reimagine what it can be.”

Each of the speakers urged the new graduates to take advantage of this newly earned community, build off it and make a difference in the world.

“As you move forward, cherish your community. Nurture it. Grow it. Be grateful for it. Pay it forward,” Sholler said.

“Yes, the legendary parties, tough classes and thrilling sporting events may make for good stories (from college), but it will be the people who stick in your mind. It will be your community,” Bertolino said.

“We may not have had a high school prom, or a typical high school graduation, but look at us now. Look how much stronger we are, together,” Vaughn said.

“I am of the firm conviction that anything is possible when a group of people is annoying enough,” Myers said. “So be annoying. Refuse to settle for mediocrity and false promises. But most importantly, leave here today with an emboldened desire not just to learn, but to care, and to act on it.”

Morning Ceremony Photos

Afternoon Ceremony Photos