72-year-old graduate is college’s oldest valedictorian

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A Wayne Township college graduate made history Thursday by becoming the school’s oldest valedictorian.

It was commencement day at Passaic County Community College and graduate Hank Cenicola says that he couldn’t be prouder. At age 72, he became the school’s oldest student to graduate with top honors.

“It was the best learning experience of my life,” he says.

Cenicola received his associate degree – one of 1,200 students at the college. But he never imagined that he would see this day. Cenicola dropped out of high school when he was 16. He later received his diploma and worked to support his family. He suddenly lost his job three years ago and went back to school.

“For him to be on the stage and have everybody recognize all his hard work and have his story be told is really very heartwarming,” says his daughter, Jennifer Ryan.

Cenicola says that he always liked to cook, so he enrolled in the school’s culinary program.

“I come from an Italian family. We like to eat, so we cook,” he says.

Fran, his wife of 46 years, says that she is proud of what her husband has achieved. But she says that she has also noticed a difference in the kitchen.

“And now he’s telling me, ‘You’re not cleaning this right’ or ‘You have to wipe this first,’” she says.

Cenicola is not only the oldest valedictorian in Passaic County Community College’s 50-year history, he is also the first graduate of the culinary program.

And as for what is next?

“I wouldn’t want to be a line cook. That’s too strenuous at my age. I’d like to maybe work for a caterer part-time,” he says.

News 12 New Jersey is told that Cenicola makes a pretty killer cheesecake.

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