Words to the wise: What could I possibly say to impress the super-impressive graduating class at CCM

Keep it short. Try to get a laugh. Remember, it’s about the graduates, not you.

And, oh, don’t pick your nose (I’ll explain that one in a moment).

There isn’t a guidebook for how to give a commencement address — just a universal understanding that they are always too long and forgetful.

They are a necessary evil that always seems to come right before the moment of the event that everyone came for: the reading of the names of the graduates.

I knew that as I approached the podium at Mennen Arena on Thursday morning, preparing to address the 2023 graduates of the County College of Morris.


It’s not how you get to CCM, but where you go after arriving.

My family knows this firsthand. My oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum, found himself there. After years of school refusal and too many special ed schools to count, he learned to embrace education at CCM and earned his degree.

Tom Bergeron delivers his commencement address.

CCM is filled with these unique success stories. President Tony Iacono highlighted a few for the crowd.

There was Lili Roebuck, a Newark native who was on her way to Hampton University before a senseless shooting left her wheelchair-bound but did not dampen her spirit. She graduated with a degree in psychology and is headed to Rutgers University.

And Stephanie Wildrick, a widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan. She found enough support and inner strength to return to school while raising two young kids.

And Calvin Solomon, who came to CCM as an adult learner looking to establish himself in the medical field as a technician before pivoting during the pandemic to earn a degree (and a job) in electronics engineering technology.

At CCM, diversity not only is measured by race or ethnicity, but by the journeys of the students who are there — whether it be for a class, a semester or a degree.

“This is one of the great joys of being at a community college: You get to serve the whole community — and the community is a diverse place,” Iacono said. “We’re a place where people can start a career or change a career. We’re relevant to our communities because we understand our communities. So, when the economy changes, we change with it.”

CCM is there, as needed, Iacono said.

“I think the beauty of our diversity often is the older students who are here,” he said. “They really add more value in our classrooms, because they bring experience in there with them.”


Don’t pick your nose?

What did they mean by that?

The CCM communications teams quickly explained.

“When you’re on stage, there are so many cameras going that at least one of them will have you in it,” they explained. “So, even if you’re not at the podium, people can see you. You’ll be in the background.

“So, don’t yawn. Don’t fall asleep — trust us, that happens.

“And don’t pick your nose.”

Got it.


CCM is not the 13th grade. Far from it.

Its courses are as challenging as any you’ll find.

And, in so many ways, it is a workforce development center that prepares students for real careers far better than most four-year schools do. No one questions the value of a CCM degree.

There is training in a variety of fields: business, advanced manufacturing, health care, cybersecurity, culinary arts — the list goes on and on. And it’s constantly being updated. CCM just added a course for those who want to become drone pilots.

That’s why CCM annually is judged as one of the best community colleges in the country, not just the state. It’s why CCM has the full support and backing of John Krickus, the county commissioner director in Morris County.

“We like to say we’re the best-run county in the state,” he said. “And education and workforce skills are the No. 1 priority for us.

“Morris County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, which is great, but it also means the skills of our workforce have to keep improving if we’re going to continue to increase our production.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my lifetime where workforce skills are so important.”

And, at a time when education funding is under fire, Krickus said the county is keeping its promise to students — and their potential future employers.

“It’s why we’ve really invested in the advanced manufacturing center, the culinary entrepreneurial center, the expansion of vo-tech programs — all to follow our beliefs about education,” he said. “We’re going to follow that philosophy with great intensity.”


The pressure was on. I had to deliver a message that would resonate with the 2023 spring graduates (approximately 600 of the more than 1,000 CCM has annually) and the crowd (more than 3,000).

I gave an out-of-the-box talk about cell phones — explaining how they are both the greatest technological invention of our time, but also a great hazard to our well-being.

It certainly won’t rival the “Wear Sunscreen” speech that some say Kurt Vonnegut gave at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (it’s actually an urban legend), but I think it went over OK.

I got a few laughs. And there wasn’t any booing. (Judge for yourself, here.)

The only slip-up: I went over the 10-minute limit by a minute or two.

The good news: I never once picked my nose.