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Inaugural Class of Educational Leadership Doctoral Students Graduate at Monmouth University Summer Commencement Photo 1

Inaugural Class of Educational Leadership Doctoral Students Graduate at Monmouth University Summer Commencement

Six doctoral students, 55 graduate students and 53 undergraduates participate in ceremony

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. (Aug. 28, 2019)—Monmouth University bestowed six doctorate degrees to the first cohort of educational leadership students at the university’s summer commencement ceremony held on campus yesterday at 3 p.m. in Pollak Theatre. The ceremony, which marked the first commencement with Monmouth’s 10th president, Patrick F. Leahy, Ed.D., celebrated students who completed their degree requirements in July and August.

The two-year, 54-credit educational leadership program was launched in 2017 and its inaugural class of doctoral students was made up of school leaders from Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties including: Stephany J. Hesslein, education technology specialist at Middletown Township Public Schools; Meredith Ann Riddle, history teacher at Long Branch Public Schools and alternate route teacher certification coordinator at Monmouth University; William Thomas Smith IV, superintendent at Point Pleasant Beach School District; Thomas M. Toohey, principal at Lawrence Township Public Schools; and Ronald Thaddeus Wardell Jr., math and science supervisor at Monmouth Regional High School District. Evelyn Cruz, principal of Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design in Denver, Colorado also received her doctorate degree.

“The educational leadership program at Monmouth allowed me to learn from a network of professors and colleagues who lead transformative change in the education field,” said Toohey, principal of the Lawrence Intermediate School. “Earning my doctorate has been a rewarding, profound experience and one of the highlights of my professional career. I look forward to designing and implementing innovative strategies I learned through this program to increase student learning.”

Lisa Dinella, Ph.D., professor of psychology and the 2019 Monmouth University Distinguished Teacher Award recipient, addressed the graduates and delivered the keynote address. A research scientist who studies children’s toy play and how gendered experiences shape academic and career pursuits, Dinella urged graduates to reminisce about what it was like to play on a jungle gym as a child.

“Remember being able to run around, exploring the parts that you found most fascinating?” asked Dinella. “Remember how happy you were when you challenged yourself to climb higher, reach farther, jump further? If you fell down, you got up, used what you learned, and tried again.”

Dinella challenged graduates to replace the metaphor of climbing a career ladder with the childhood vision of the jungle gym. “Ladders are narrow, unidirectional, and fraught with glass ceilings,” added Dinella. “But jungle gyms—there are so many routes to the top. Success can be approached from so many angles. They are the spaces where knowledge, skills, creativity and innovation thrive.”

Leahy, in his first commencement ceremony as university president, offered closing remarks and asked students to consider a new way of thinking about the word “hope” as they set out on their life journey.

He encouraged graduates to define hope in terms of maintaining optimism and faith in the face of daunting odds, referencing a quote from Czech playwright and political dissident, Vaclav Havel, who led the non-violent revolution that freed what was then Czechoslovakia from communist rule.

“What I wish for all of you graduates here today is that throughout your life, you carry hope in your hearts,” said Leahy. “That is—that no matter what you decide to do—your lives and your work always have meaning.”

To view the 2019 summer commencement footage, visit