Alumnus Shaun T leads a rousing Commencement 2019

Alumnus Shaun T leads a rousing Commencement 2019

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In a ceremony filled with pageant, tradition, emotion and spirit, Rowan University celebrated the first day of Commencement 2019 Saturday, May 11, in Coach Richard Wackar Stadium.

It was the first of five days of Commencement programming in which an estimated 3,800 students will participate.

While many on Saturday customized their black graduation caps and gowns with ribbons and cords in a kaleidoscope of colors and styles, all wore thousand-watt smiles befitting their achievement.

Shaun T, the University’s 2013 distinguished alumnus, delivered a rousing keynote that was at once personal and universal, imploring those before him to follow their passion wherever it may lead.

Introducing him, President Ali Houshmand reminded students that as the University grows, so grows the value of every hard-earned degree.

Among many achievements over the past eight years, Rowan became the sixth fastest growing research university in the U.S. and earned Carnegie R2 (high research activity) designation as a doctoral-level research university. The University's enrollment nearly doubled to 19,000 students over the past decade, it partnered in the $425 million, privately-funded Rowan Boulevard redevelopment project, opened Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and acquired the School of Osteopathic Medicine.

“We’re no longer a regional university. We are a national university!” Houshmand said.

Born Shaun Thompson, the 2001 Rowan graduate, a leader in the multi-billion dollar health and fitness industry, is the founder of Shaun T Inc., a company that, since 2007, has generated $1 billion in sales with a string of at-home workout blockbusters including Hip Hop Abs, INSANITY and Transform: 20.

“I’m home, everybody!” he called to an ecstatic stadium of graduates, family and friends. “Make some noise!”

Recalling a trip to South Africa where his family climbed Table Mountain in Cape Town, Thompson said the reward is not necessarily in reaching the peak, but in seeing what lies beyond it.

“It’s about, yeah, I did this! Look around and see how far you’ve come.”

Thompson, a one-time Communication major who said he initially dreamed of becoming “the next Anderson Cooper,” found a passion in health and fitness when, seeking to lose weight he’d gained as a freshman, he taught his first exercise class in Rowan’s Student Rec Center.

In recognition of the great success Thompson forged, Rowan awarded him a Medal of Excellence for Entrepreneurship.

 

Recognizing honorees

During the ceremony, Rowan also awarded disability rights activist Judith Heumann an honorary doctoral degree. Among her many achievements, Heumann co-founded the World Institute on Disability in 1983 and was appointed Special Advisor for International Disability Rights by President Barack Obama. She also served as Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services under President Bill Clinton.

Rowan also honored N.J. State Senator Troy Singleton ’05, as the University’s Distinguished Alumnus 2019. Singleton, who holds a degree in finance from Rowan, won a seat in the State’s General Assembly in 2011 and his first term in the Senate in 2017.

 

A special surprise

As it did last year, Rowan’s main Commencement ceremony featured a random drawing for $5,000 funded by Gourmet Dining, the University’s official food vendor. The winner of the drawing was James Chiara, a music and education major.

Though biological sciences major Stephen Espinosa did not win the $5,000, he beamed with the thrill of entering life’s next chapter.

“I’m going to be a microbiologist, testing substances to make sure they’re safe,” he said.

Espinosa credited Rowan with not only providing him the education to seek the career of his dreams but with pushing him to get experience before graduating.

“Most importantly, Rowan made it affordable for me to get my degree,” he said. "For that I’ll be forever grateful.”

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