PISCATAWAY — As he addressed the Rutgers University class of 2017 rock legend Steven Van Zandt said even if they were not born in New Jersey they were part of the state from their time at the school. That, he said, should help them in whatever their future endeavors may be.

"Embrace your Jersey roots. That authenticity. Jersey strong," he said. "It doesn't matter where you are from, you are in the Jersey family now."

Van Zandt, also known as "Little Steven," made a name for himself as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and also appeared on The Sopranos. He said it was the band's New Jersey roots that helped them make a name for themselves with record executives.

"Can you imagine the faces [at the record company] when Bruce went to discuss the cover of his first album and handed them a postcard that said 'Greetings from Asbury Park?" he said. "Embrace your Jersey roots. That authenticity. Jersey strong. It doesn't matter where you are from, you are in the Jersey family now."

As the keynote speaker of the graduation and as the recipient of an honorary doctorate, Van Zandt said even as their work in the classroom was done there was still more for the graduates to do outside the school's walls.

"Greatness isn't born, it's developed," he said. "Greatness is a decision that you make, and you make that decision every single day in everything you do, no matter how small."

As they start their lives after being Scarlet Knights Van Zandt told the graduates to expect the unexpected in their lives after college.

"When your ship comes in you will probably be at the airport," he said. "You can make all the plans you want, but keep yourself open for unexpected opportunities because that is where most of life comes from."

The ceremony, held at High Point Solutions Stadium included more than 17,000 students across a wide spectrum of majors and degree levels.

"You know that diversity is not simply demographic facts," President Robert Barchi said during the ceremony. "This diversity has made you stronger. You know what it means to come from very different backgrounds, and to hold different points of view, and yet to recognize in each other the dignity that each and every individual in the community deserves."

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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