"This institution changed my life in ways I haven’t even met yet."

July 17, 2019

Spotlight on the Class of 2019: Casey Bucceri

He Discovered His True Self at PCCC

When Casey Bucceri donned his cap and gown to graduate in PCCC’s 47th Commencement ceremony, the 35-year-old had a profound realization. “This is who I really am,” he said.

For the first time in his adult life, Casey felt comfortable with himself, and he attributes that to his experience at PCCC.

“This institution changed my life in ways I haven’t even met yet,” said Casey who received his Career Certificate in Human Services and a Certificate of Achievement in Alcohol and Drugs Certification Domains. Casey earned an impressive 3.9 GPA and expects to receive his associate’s degree in August.

The Clifton resident told the story of how he had lost his way earlier in life, but found himself again at PCCC. Casey was a good student in the elementary grades where he learned easily and performed well, but things changed in his teenage years.

“I was in trouble a lot,” he admits, describing a life of drugs, shoplifting, theft to get money for drugs, and homelessness. “I didn’t like who I was then,” said Casey. “I was even arrested and went to prison.”

A high school dropout, Casey completed his GED (high school equivalency) in prison, and earned his high school diploma. Some time later, he became a resident of Eva’s Village, a halfway house and food kitchen in downtown Paterson. It was there that Casey started to think seriously about his future.

One day, when he was on his way to a Dunkin Donuts store near PCCC’s Main Campus, Casey changed direction. “I bypassed Dunkin and came to PCCC instead,” he said. The first person he encountered at the College was English professor Kelly Bender.

“Professor Bender was the first of so many people here who offered support and encouragement,” explained Casey. “I knew right away that coming to PCCC was something I had to do.” 

The week after he enrolled, Casey also landed a job making pizzas at a local shop. “I came to school full time and worked full time,” he said. “It was a lot, but I was determined.”

At PCCC, Casey started out with developmental classes to strengthen his basic academic skills and quickly progressed to college-level classes. His academic performance was so strong that Casey was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK).

“Getting involved in PTK was really good for me,” said Casey. “Hanging around with positive people who enjoyed learning inspired me and made me feel good about myself.”

Optimistic and engaging, Casey was also elected president of the Student Government Association. “I liked it, but had to resign, because I was too busy with work and school.”

He did, however, become involved with the Men of Color Initiative (MCI) at PCCC, a support group for male students who face particular challenges in both daily life and at college. “Growing up, I didn’t have a father figure in my life, so I was drawn to the group,” said Casey who appreciated MCI’s mentoring, sharing, and commitment to community service.

Because of his personal experiences, Casey was drawn to the field of Human Services and plans on a career as a social worker. He has received a full scholarship to attend Rutgers-Newark in the fall where he will major in social work and minor in Business Administration, a combination that he feels will prepare him to fulfill another, very special goal.

“I would like to open a non-profit facility similar to PAL,” said Casey, referring to the Police Athletic League, which aims to prevent juvenile crime and violence by offering at-risk youth athletic involvement, along with educational opportunities and support.

An avid baseball player until his early teens, Casey said, “I loved being part of a baseball team, and I want to offer kids the experience of togetherness and sharing that I enjoyed through sports.”

Now employed as an admissions counselor at Eva’s Village, where he processes paperwork for new residents, Casey has seen his life come full circle.

“I wasn’t happy with myself when I was always in trouble,” he said. “Now I feel so comfortable with myself.  I love libraries. I love being a nerd. I love who I always was, but was scared to be.”

Opening his arms as if to embrace the entire campus, Casey added, “PCCC did this for me. This is who I really am, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Written and photographed by Linda Telesco