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Kean Celebrates Commencement with Week of In-Person Ceremonies

Under a bright blue sky with loved ones watching from the bleachers, members of Kean University’s Class of 2021 marched into Alumni Stadium at 10 Commencement ceremonies held over four days to celebrate their remarkable achievement amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You truly are an exceptional group,” Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D., said in his remarks to the graduates. “Despite all of the disruptions caused by the global pandemic, we are here together today, and we have so much to celebrate. We are forever changed by this experience. But no matter how much our world changed around us, we made our way through together.” 

For a second year, Kean held in-person, outdoor Commencement ceremonies to celebrate the graduating class while protecting the health and well-being of graduates, their families and University employees during the pandemic. The ceremonies were also livestreamed at kean.edu/commencement. Each ceremony featured students from different Kean colleges and followed state and federal COVID-19 safety protocols, including social distancing, face masks and limited capacity. 

Kean’s 2021 graduating class of 3,748 includes 3,003 undergraduates and 745 graduate students.

The graduating students adjusted to remote classes, social distancing, mask mandates and countless Zoom meetings as the pandemic disrupted in-person learning and campus activities. They felt the economic impact of the pandemic, and some saw loved ones suffer from the illness. The students also witnessed political and social turbulence that swept across the country.

But they pressed on, each achieving their goal. 

Class valedictorian Jason Antunes of Monroe, who earned his Bachelor of Arts in mathematical sciences, touted the strong resilience he and his classmates share.

“Who would have thought that after Spring break of 2020, there would be an abrupt end to in-person classes, meet-ups at the clock tower, Starbucks runs, or trolley trips around campus?” he asked. “Nonetheless, we persevered through classes, internships and extracurriculars and earned the right to share this moment. Every step of this journey was worth it, and our resilience is what makes our class truly unique and special.”

The Commencement ceremonies began with a welcome by a member of the Kean University Board of Trustees. Deans of each academic college at Kean delivered messages to the graduates, and student vocalists performed the Star-Spangled Banner.

Each ceremony was also highlighted by a student speaker.

Student government president Lindsey Gonzalez of North Brunswick, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in management, spoke to her classmates at the College of Business and Public Management.

She said “not even a pandemic could stop us from accomplishing and attaining a degree.

“Looking at everyone now, I see a generation filled with the dreamers, the realists, the visionaries and the action takers,” she said. “We are the change the world needs, the solution to the next big challenge and the force that will drive our world to success. God bless you and congratulations, Class of 2021; we did it!”

Student Trustee Jason Pleitez, a rising senior from Middlesex studying management, offered his congratulations to a graduating class “tested like no other.” 

“Some of you had to pick up extra shifts at work to support those at home; some of you were on the front lines serving as our heroes throughout this pandemic; but all of you devoted your time to successfully completing your degree. You have inspired students like me who dream of the day that I will be sitting in your seat,” he said. 

Leilah Capawana, of Watchung, who received her Bachelor of Science degree in business management, led the Class of 2021 into Alumni Stadium as the first in the procession line during the first ceremony.

She said she was extremely happy and grateful to be celebrating her graduation.

"It feels great!" she said. "I made it very far, and I'm excited to see what comes next. Four years is a long time!"

High school sweethearts Kayla Alves and Jake Santos, both of Kenilworth, are now both Kean graduates. Alves earned her degree in marketing and Santos, a Kean soccer player, received his degree in business management. They celebrated their Commencement with smiles, flowers, and two sets of proud parents in tow.

"It was an unbelievable moment, just because it's such a huge accomplishment," Alves said. 

What is next for the two?

"I don't know," Alves said, smiling at Santos. "You want to get our master's together?"