Farah Manzoor, 31, of Edison, presided as valedictorian during the commencement, held May 19 inside the Physical Education Center because of rainy weather.
“Even as one journey comes to an end, a new one begins,” she told the class. “… With the knowledge, skills and invaluable experiences that we gained here at MCC, we can overcome every obstacle.”
Manzoor’s collegiate journey began after a nearly 10-year lapse in her formal education. Born in Kuwait and living in Pakistan since she was 8 years old, Manzoor came to the United States in 1997 when she was 18 years old.
“She literally kept on pushing,” Manzoor said of her sister. “Every time she would call, she would ask ‘Are you planning to do something?’ She lives in London and has been studying for the longest time.”
In 2007 Manzoor moved with her family to Edison from Jersey City, and in 2008 she enrolled in the county college.
“My youngest daughter had entered kindergarten and there was the timeframe of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. that I had all to myself,” she said. “Instead of sleeping, cleaning and cooking, I decided to do something. … It was a great decision. The college is 10 minutes from my house and the scheduling worked out perfectly. I was able to finish all my requirements without messing with the schedule.”
“Rutgers University does not offer the hotel restaurant major. That is why I switched,” she said.
Manzoor said her three years at MCC were wonderful.
“I loved the college. I would say it was the best years of my life, having fun and learning,” she said. “I don’t know if it was because I am an older student, but I appreciated all the efforts of the faculty in their teaching. When you are younger, you feel they are against us. But they do want what is best for us. I realize that now.”
This fall, she will enter the Rutgers Business School.
Manzoor learned she was accepted in April and that she would receive a $16,000 merit scholarship from the Phi Theta Kappa organization at Rutgers. That same month, Manzoor was informed that she was selected as valedictorian at MCC.
“I was told that I was a potential candidate,” she said. “I had a 4.0 and I had to fill out information about what I had done to give back to the school in terms of community service. I was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society at the college, and I organized toy drives and blood drives. I was also a member of the college’s Assembly.” Manzoor could not believe the news when she was told she was selected to be valedictorian.
“I received the phone call and went to the office the next day to make sure what I heard was right,” she said.
Manzoor’s sister could not make it to the graduation; however, her parents, Shahid Anwar and Zubaiba Shahid, traveled from Pakistan to celebrate their daughter’s accomplishments.
“They have come to the United States a few times, but have not been here in seven years,” she said. “I waved to them, but I tried not to look at them when I was saying my speech, because I didn’t want to mess it up. My sister sent me a very nice vase of flowers.”
Manzoor said she looks forward to finishing her bachelor’s degree, concentrating on math and accounting.
Among her fellow graduates was Paul Lazaro of Parlin, a U.S. Army veteran who served as president of the college’s Veterans Association. He interspersed his education with two tours in Iraq, receiving the Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound to his hand.
Also, brother and sister Phil and Elizabeth Vasquez graduated together. The two worked at the college’s Democracy House, a service-learning program in which students work with nonprofits and perform volunteer service. Phil served as coordinator of the program. Elizabeth was the college salutatorian last week.
Also in the class were 91 graduates from New Jersey STARS, a scholarship program that covers tuition for students who graduate in the top 15 percent of their high school class and attend community college.
College President Joann La Perla- Morales conferred degrees and certificates to the graduates, and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Karen L. Hays presented the Frank M. Chambers Award for Academic Excellence to 18 graduates, in recognition of their earning a 4.0 grade point average.
Manzoor and Elizabeth Vazquez were among the Chambers Award winners, along with Sonya J. Bacon of Monroe, Ann M. Pfister of Milltown, Anita Abraham of Edison, Mary J. Fiorentino of South Amboy, Kimberly A. Ratai of Colonia, Megan C. Witos of Edison, Laura M. Sarfati of South River, Xianyi Gao of East Brunswick, Irina Kuzmina of Metuchen, Larissa A. Kuhlken of South Plainfield, Matt R. Madurski of South Plainfield, Syed Jawad H. Shah of North Brunswick, Gina K. Rutherford of Sewaren, Alyssa B. Klimek of South Plainfield, Marius Sturzoiu of Edison, and Yuliya Esipova of Avenel.
“Where we go from here and what new frontiers we are meant to discover remain unseen,” Manzoor told the class. “No matter what tomorrow brings, be it the simplest path or a winding road, today we share an achievement. Today we take with us the memories, the knowledge and the self-satisfaction of a job well done.”