A few months ago, Monmouth University's Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC) served as the largest evacuation shelter in the state for more than 1,000 people displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
On Friday afternoon, it was not filled with evacuees, but 417 graduates for the university's winter commencement ceremony. Graduates included those who completed their required courses in the summer or fall of 2012.
As part of the ceremony, one of the heroes during the storm, Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun F. Golden, was presented with the Maurice Pollak Award for Distinguished Community Service for his regional leadership role during Hurricane Sandy.
Golden received a bachelor's degree in political science from Monmouth University in 1999 and is an adjunct professor with the university's department of political science and technology.
Golden credited his experience at Monmouth University with helping him become sheriff.
"One of the reasons I am here today is because of the values I've learned from my parents and sitting where all of you are sitting at this university," Golden said.
Golden Globe Award Winning-producer Jon Kilik, who is a New Jersey native and has produced films such as Do The Right Thing, Babel and The Hunger Games, was given an honorary degree during the ceremony. Kilik also delivered the commencement address for the ceremony.
"Success is defined in many ways, and you will find yours," Kilik said. "Don't let the world consume you, take some time to enjoy all the beauty around you."
This year's winter commencement ceremony also marked the last time Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II, who will be retiring on June 30 after more than 10 years of leadership.
Gaffney said he was proud to see the graduates move on the next part of their lives.
"I've seen this class grow in confidence and peer responsibility over the years," Gaffney said.