Centenary University Celebrates 144th Commencement

Stephen M. Somers

MORRIS COUNTY — Stephen M. Somers, owner and president of Vigon International, a leading manufacturer within the flavor and fragrance industry, delivered the keynote address at Centenary University’s 144th commencement on Saturday, May 11. The ceremony was held under a large tent on Anderson Field on the University’s Hackettstown campus.

Somers, who was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters at the event, has been recognized as the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year in manufacturing for the greater Philadelphia area, and his firm recently earned its third consecutive spot on the “Best and Brightest Companies to Work For” list compiled by the National Association for Business Resources. A part owner of the New York Yankees Triple A team, Somers and his wife, Sharon, are the lead donors of Centenary’s new baseball complex dubbed “Our Diamond of Dreams.” He holds a master’s degree in analytical chemistry from St. John’s University and a bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry from St. Joseph’s College.

During the ceremony, 505 graduates received associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees. A hooding ceremony for students earning graduate degrees, including the University’s first doctoral class, was held on Wednesday, May 8, in the Sitnik Theatre. The Class of 2019 included graduates from Centenary’s main campus in Hackettstown, as well as the School of Professional Studies in Parsippany and Edison.

River Vale resident Milissa Plescia was valedictorian of the Class of 2019. She is the first non-traditional, adult student to earn this distinction in University history. The business administration major this year celebrates 30 years of working at BASF, where she is currently an administrative associate to the senior vice president of human resources North America. The mother of three attended classes at Centenary’s School of Professional Studies and graduated summa cum laude.

During the ceremony, the University also recognized Caitlin C. Wigger of Clifton Park, N.Y., and Christine DeLuca of Netcong with the Welsh Prize for academic excellence. A double major in equine studies: pre-vet and biology, Wigger was recognized with the Welsh Prize for traditional students and delivered a graduate reflection on behalf of undergraduates. She is a summa cum laude graduate. DeLuca received the Welsh Prize for non-traditional students. She earned her degree in business administration summa cum laude, attending classes at Centenary’s School of Professional Studies. In addition, Melissa Coleman of Hardwick, N.J., presented a graduate reflection on behalf of master’s candidates, while Rev. Najee S. Evans of Hillside, another member of the Class of 2019, delivered the benediction.

The Centenary University Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Kris Gunawan, Ph.D., of Hackettstown, assistant professor of psychology. Dr. Gunawan has taught at Centenary for three years, and has earned the respect of his colleagues and students at the University. He received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, master’s and undergraduate degrees from California State University, and an associate degree from Mt. San Antonio College in California.

The Joel A. Kobert Award for Teaching, which recognizes an adjunct professor for teaching excellence, was awarded to James Stone, an adjunct professor in the Centenary University Department of Business. A resident of Randolph, he is a certified public accountant who earned undergraduate degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University and Biscayne College/St. Thomas University in Florida. He is a vice president for BASF Americas.

Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary University’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix provides an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, with its equestrian facility in Washington Township. The Centenary University School of Professional Studies offers degree programs at two locations, Parsippany and Edison, as well as online and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.