Georgian Court University has awarded Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton Executive Director Marlene Laó-Collins an honorary doctorate in public service. At a commencement ceremony last week at the Catholic university in Lakewood, Laó-Collins addressed the graduates and challenged them to get involved in their communities to fight injustices.
“You can make a difference too, wherever you go and whatever career path you take. I wholeheartedly urge you to do so!” said Laó-Collins, pictured above with the Rev. Msgr. Casimir H. Ladzinski, a Georgian Court University trustee who gave the invocation. “Embrace Georgian Court University’s core values of respect, integrity, justice, compassion, and service—and intentionally live them out. Incorporating those values through our whole society—through economics, education, politics, health care, law, and everywhere—is key to protecting the dignity of all humans and ensuring that people will grow in community. It takes all of us to look out for one another.”
Altogether, more than 650 graduates collected their degrees from Georgian Court in four ceremonies held last Wednesday and Thursday. In her speech, Laó-Collins credited her parents, Abraham Laó and Margarita Laó de Ramos, and the Franciscan religious community where she grew up in Hoboken with instilling in her a drive to do good and make change in her community.
“They showed me that inaction was not acceptable. They taught me that it is my duty—and indeed, the duty of everyone of good conscience—to expose and address grave injustices like poverty, homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, and systemic racism. I am blessed to lead Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, whose mission is to address those challenges through advocacy, service, and community-building,” Laó-Collins said.
Outside of Catholic Charities, Laó-Collins is a co-founder and member of the Mercer County Hispanic Association and the Latina Women’s Council. In addition, she serves on the boards of Catholic Charities USA and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton.
A nod to nurses from state’s top nurse
At a separate commencement ceremony for the Georgian Court-Hackensack Meridian Health School of Nursing graduates, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli (pictured above with Georgian Court University President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D.) was the keynote speaker. Persichilli and her late husband Tony have been longtime Catholic Charities supporters who were honored in 2008 with Catholic Charities’ most prestigious recognition, the Richard J. Hughes Humanitarian Award.
Persichilli is the first nurse to lead the New Jersey Department of Health. Previously, she held executive positions at University Hospital in Newark; CHE Trinity Health; and St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton.
She, too, encouraged graduates to take action. Persichilli applauded students for choosing “an honorable and personally rewarding profession that puts you on the frontlines in the delivery of health services for all those who will be entrusted in your care.”
“Keep the door open”
“Nurses are vital to our health care system. Never has that been more true than today. COVID-19 has been an extraordinary, once-in-a-century pandemic,” Persichilli said. “As I have told the team who has worked on this nonstop at the Department of Health, you are not just living through history. By your work, you are making history as we journey to restore a new normal to our lives … It is the education that you received at this institution that will help you touch so many lives—calming the scared and healing the sick. You are entering the most noble of professions.”
Persichilli noted that one in 500 New Jerseyans has died from COVID-19, impacting thousands of families across the state – including her own family. As the nursing graduates enter a profession that continues to grapple with the coronavirus, she urged them to support each other.
“I’ve been pretty successful in my career, for one reason—because I was given opportunity. Opportunity that sometimes is not open to everyone because individuals have a tendency to shut the door behind them – ‘I’ve moved through; I don’t want anyone else to follow me.’ I learned early on to keep the door open so others can succeed,” Persichilli said.
She added: “My advice is never to shut the door behind you. Never forget what you learned here. Lift each other up; continue to support one another in your professional journey. And maybe someday, you’ll have the privilege of being a Commissioner of Health during a global pandemic.”
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