Correction appended May 25th.
More than 1,300 students graduated from Essex County College yesterday during the school’s 43rd annual commencement.
Several hundred students dressed in green gowns attended the ceremony at the Prudential Center arena in Newark, a few blocks from the school’s main campus. Students earned degrees in nursing and allied health, biology and chemistry, music, education, business and other disciplines.
“You were not born in this world to fit in. You were born to stand out,” said commencement speaker Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark.
The Class of 2012 was especially accomplished. Three of the students -- salutatorian Carla Alvarez-Valverde of Bloomfield, valedictorian Renata Martin of Kearny and Newark resident Emanuel Martinez -- were each awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship. Only 50 Cooke scholarships, each worth $30,000 a year for up to three years, are awarded annually to graduating community college students across the country.
The 19-year-old Martin, who earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average as a biology-pre med major,* will continue her schooling at Brown University. A native of Ecuador, Alvarez-Valverde, named New Jersey’s top community college student, began her career as an ESL (English as a Second Language) student before moving on to classes for an associate’s degree in business.
Martinez, 20, who also earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average as a liberal arts major, plans one day to open an international school in Latin America. Martinez was also named an assistant marshal for his class and plans to attend Hampshire College in Massachusetts.
Other standout graduates yesterday include Rachel Barnett of Maplewood, at 17 the youngest member of the Class of 2012 who also notched a perfect grade point average. Barnett, who was home schooled before coming to Essex County College, will study mathematics at Rutgers-New Brunswick this fall.
Magdalena Lebuna, of Bloomfield, was also named assistant marshal of her class and also earned a 4.0 grade point average. The business major, who plans to study finance at Rutgers-Newark, also wants to earn a master’s degree in pharmaceutical management.
The Township of Bloomfield produced another student with a perfect GPA: Christian Blair. The journalism major, a graduate of the New York City Center for the Media Arts in Television News and Studio Production, served as editor of the college newspaper, The Observer.
*Correction: The original version of this article misidentified Martin's major.