LAKEWOOD – Forty percent of this year’s Georgian Court University graduates were the first in their families to attend college.
“I’m the eldest of the three of (children) and ever since I was a kid I’ve been taking care of everyone in my family: when it came to translating papers, physically caring for someone, being the shoulder they would cry on, so for me nursing was an innate thing to do and something I always carried with me was when my mom would tell me about her dream of becoming a nurse,” Yasmin Amaro-García said as she prepared for Wednesday’s commencement ceremony.
Amaro-García, a Lakewood native and daughter of Mexican immigrants, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing after winning multiple scholarships thanks to her high GPA from her time as a student in the Lakewood public schools.
She was one of 450 undergraduate and 180 graduate students awarded their degrees at the university’s graduation ceremonies.
This year, the youngest graduate was 19 years old while the oldest was 69, and about 95% of all graduates were from New Jersey.
Amaro-García, who was her class speaker at the ceremony, was the GCU Nursing Club President for two years in a row, had her own chapter published in the 3rd volume of Today’s Inspired Young Latina, and organized a vigil for Vanessa Guillen, the Latina soldier who was bludgeoned to death by a male soldier in Texas in 2020.
Amaro-García was also a member of the Phi Eta Sigma honor society, the Hispanic Student Organization and [email protected]
According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education, 89% of low-income, first-generation students leave college without finishing their degree, but Amaro-García made it.
“I had so many times when I was like, ‘I should just quit.’ Because it was so hard. There was so much pressure in being the first one in my entire family to do it. There were so many nights when I would cry myself to sleep, but I had to keep going. I couldn’t give up,” she said.
Other graduates this year included two nuns, Sister Thuan Bui from Vietnam who earned a degree in religious studies, and Sister Pascaline Musyoka from Kenya, who earned a degree in business.
Musyoka is a project manager at Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood, a congregation in Kenya that works towards empowering women. She decided to come to Georgian Court to learn all she could about business management.
“I was lacking the skills because I was initially a kindergarten teacher before I was promoted to my current role. In business management, they gave me an introduction to finances, accounting, business marketing and strategy, and then also management skills based on human psychology,” she said.
After five years studying for her degree, Musyoka is excited to return to Kenya to continue her work with her congregation.
Yesterday, this week’s graduation ceremony also marked the graduation of the university’s first cohort in the Doctorate in Psychology program.
“In the doctoral program, we focus not just on clinical practice, we also focus on applied research and we also have a very strong community and social justice focus,” Al Mancuso, program director, said.
Amy White, who graduated with a doctorate in psychology, did research on the impact biases have on people.
“With my dissertation, what I found is that education and training correlates with the input of bias level. What that means is that the more training and education somebody has on a topic, the less bias they tend to show. So more professional development, more education, more talking about the subject, really can be shown to improve attitudes toward a particular community, ” she said.
Wednesday’s keynote speaker was Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health,
Juan Carlos Castillo is a reporter covering everything Lakewood. He delves into politics, social issues and human-interest stories. Reach out to him at [email protected]