“Being selected as the salutatorian is an honor that I worked really hard to achieve

January 9, 2020

Spotlight on the Class of Winter 2020: Casey Bucceri

When Casey Bucceri steps up to the podium to deliver the salutatory address at PCCC’s first annual Winter Commencement on January 14, he will do so with the confidence and self-knowledge he gained in his years at PCCC.

“Being selected as the salutatorian is an honor that I worked really hard to achieve,” said Casey who graduates with a GPA of 3.98. “The motivation, dedication, and discipline I had guided me along my path and, with the help of a phenomenal staff at PCCC, I am well on my way to success, and I am excited to give a speech at the ceremony.”

At one time, the 35-year-old could not have imagined himself in such a position. He was headed down a self-destructive path that involved drugs and prison. “I didn’t really like who I was,” said Casey. But last spring, when he received a career certificate and a certificate of achievement in PCCC’s 47th Commencement, Casey had a realization. “This is who I really am,” he discovered.

Now, Casey will don a cap and gown for the second time at PCCC, this time to receive his associate’s degree in human services.

“This institution changed my life in ways I haven’t even met yet,” said Casey. 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. After completing the coursework for his degree last August, Casey received a full scholarship to attend Rutgers-Newark where he is majoring in social work and minoring 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 a recovery specialist at Eva’s Village, a social service organization in Paterson, 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

*This article is a revised version of the profile posted July 17, 2019