A Commencement Day Family Affair

William Tooma (at right) proudly displays his Essex County College degree. He is joined at left by his son Dr. William Tooma, Chair of ECC’s Division of Humanities and Bilingual Studies, and ECC President Dr. Augustine A. Boakye.   


Essex County College’s 55th annual Commencement ceremony took on a unique family affair. The moment came when Dr. William Tooma, Chair of ECC’s Division of Humanities and Bilingual Studies, was set to call up the last graduate from that Division.

In a proud voice that echoed through Newark’s Prudential Center on May 23, 2024, Dr. Tooma called out the name of William Tooma, his father, to receive his hard earned Associate degree in Liberal Arts. The announcement was met with loud applause throughout the arena.

Mr. Tooma, of Clifton, served in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school. After receiving an honorable discharge, he worked in the computer programming industry while also attending college.

By the time Mr. Tooma had completed several general education courses, he had become a father to his son, Dr. Tooma. Knowing he had to provide for his new family, William ended his studies and took a position at IBM, going on to have a successful career as a computer systems analyst there and with other companies around the world.

But the idea of obtaining his degree lingered in the back of his mind.

In early 2023, Mr. Tooma found his old transcript and showed it to his son. Dr. Tooma joked with his father that if he enrolled at Essex, he could complete his Liberal Arts: General A.A. in a year. Father took son up on that. “I wanted my granddaughter to know that her grandfather finishes what he starts,” Mr. Tooma recalled.

For the next year, Mr. Tooma took classes at ECC, finishing up as a Summer I student eligible to be a proud member of the Class of 2024. 

“I just felt that, at 67, it was now or never. I hope that my story inspires others my age and younger that no matter what life may have in store for you, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what you can achieve when you push yourself. I’m truly honored and humbled to have had this experience at Essex County College,” Mr. Tooma stated.

“I didn’t realize just how important it was to him. Dad never really spoke about his time in college when I was a kid. But it was clearly important to him because he raised me to know the value of a college education. I’m so proud of him. He’s a modest man, but at Commencement, I know he felt like a giant,” said Dr. Tooma.