River Vale resident is the first non-traditional student to earn this distinction.
River Vale resident Milissa Plescia (left) was the valedictorian of Centenary University’s Class of 2019, earning the distinction of being the first adult, non-traditional student to earn the highest honor in the graduating class. Plescia delivered the valedictory address at Centenary’s 144th Commencement, held May 11 on the University’s Hackettstown campus.
A student at Centenary’s School of Professional Studies (SPS), she overcame many obstacles along the path to her degree. While Plescia graduated in the top 10% of her Boonton High School class, her family couldn’t afford to send her to college. She opted to enter the workforce instead, holding various odd jobs until 1989, when she landed a clerk position at BASF Corporation, the largest chemical producer in the world. She married and started a family soon after. Years later her sister, Tina DeLuca (right) decided to enroll at Centenary as an adult student. She dared Plescia to do the same. With the encouragement of her family, including her own college-aged daughter, Plescia accepted the challenge.
Despite having to take all 32 classes in the curriculum, eight weeks at a time—all while working full time and caring for her family—Plescia felt supported at SPS, which tailors academic programs to the needs of working adults. Soon, her self-doubt disappeared. “As a teenager, I’d convinced myself, perhaps out of self-preservation, that I didn’t need to go to college, that a degree wasn’t going to help me,” she said. “I was wrong. After having completed this program, I realized that there were many things for me to learn, many things applicable to my daily job. I learned, thanks to SPS, that I can confidently lead a team to a successful outcome.”
As a result of her studies, Plescia has scaled up the corporate ladder at BASF, which provided tuition reimbursement toward her bachelor’s degree. In 2014, she moved into her current role as the administrative assistant to the senior vice president of human resources for North America. This new degree makes Plescia feel like the sky is the limit: “You can do anything you put your mind to. My mother always said that to us growing up. Sometimes I believed her and other times I was skeptical, but the statement stands true whether you’re facing a difficult homework assignment or a difficult task in life. Believe in yourself and don’t give up.”
A resident of Netcong, DeLuca also graduated this month from Centenary University. The mother of three was the recipient of the Welsh Prize for academic excellence for non-traditional students. “In high school, my guidance counselor told me I was ‘not college material’ and that I should learn a trade,” said DeLuca, who works as an executive human resources analyst at BASF. “The most transformative result of my time at SPS was when I wrote my first argumentative paper and the professor read it out loud. He told the class that it was the perfect example of an opening to an argumentative paper. Right then I knew I WAS college material.”