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Widener Freshman Delivers Keynote Speech at Academic Excellence Banquet

Just one year ago, Shijo Benjamin, a freshman biochemistry major from Franklinville, N.J., was one of nearly 90 high school seniors being honored at the annual Gloucester County (N.J.) Academic Excellence Banquet. This year, Benjamin was back at the banquet – this time as the youngest keynote speaker in the history of the event.

Shijo BenjaminA lot has happened over the last year for Benjamin. He was named a recipient of a High School Leadership Award presented by Widener University and NBC 10, delivered the graduation address at Delsea Regional High School, chose to attend Widener, was named an Apogee Scholar, and made the Dean's List his first semester. Despite his accomplishments, he never expected to be the keynote speaker at the prestigious event as a college freshman.

"It was an honor to represent Widener as a freshman student," Benjamin said. "It was a very unique experience from being one among the many to being center stage. It was an immense sense of responsibility to share what I learned from my freshman year, but I'm glad that many principals and students said they enjoyed my speech."

The banquet honors the top five graduating students from each of the 17 high school in Gloucester County. The schools take turns selecting the keynote speaker for the banquet each year, and it was Delsea Regional's turn to pick this year. Benjamin said it was a particular honor because the schools usually choose more established or famous alumni.

Benjamin's academic advisor at Widener, Dr. Alexis Nagengast; and his research advisor, Dr. Hemlata Mistry, attended the event in support of Benjamin.

"They are two of the finest professors at Widener," Benjamin said. "Both mentors have not only guided and supported me throughout my first year of college, but have also addressed my doubts and relieved my fears. I can't thank them enough for their support."

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,500 students. Visit the university website,

Photo Caption:  Shijo Benjamin (center) celebrates the evening's events with Widener faculty members Hemlata Mistry (left) and Alexis Nagengast (right).