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Kean Keeps It in the Family

Kean graduates Robert and Mary Knight and Priscilla and Frezia Valenzuela in side-by-side photos.

What is it like to graduate college side-by-side with your parent or child? Just ask Frezia and Priscilla Valenzuela or Robert and Mary Knight, parent-child duos in Kean’s Class of 2021 who shared the experience at last week’s Commencement ceremonies.

Kean 2021 graduates Priscilla and Frezia Valenzuela and their family
Kean 2021 graduates Priscilla and Frezia Valenzuela and their family

“It was an amazing experience,” said Frezia Valenzuela, 52, who immigrated from Peru and earned her master’s degree in curriculum/bilingual education. “I came to this country with a bag full of dreams. Walking with my daughter is my best prize. It is the perfect, perfect way to complete my dream.”

“Getting to share the spotlight with my mom was very important to me,” added her daughter, Priscilla, who lives with her family in Perth Amboy and received her master’s in speech-language pathology.

Priscilla encouraged her mother to pursue her master’s degree, calling it a “power move,” and helped coordinate their classes so they would graduate together.

“It was really interesting to be in grad school at the same time as my mother, especially this past year when my mom and I were both working on our theses together,” said Priscilla. “It was nice because you go to your mom for advice in life, but I could also compare my struggles of grad school and lean on her too.” 

Toms River resident Robert Knight, 63, and his 27-year-old daughter Mary, both studied at Kean Ocean. Robert is the first Kean Ocean graduate to receive a bachelor’s in psychology/forensic psychology and will use the degree to further his career at the Ocean County Youth Services Commission. Mary also earned her bachelor’s in psychology. Sharing the same major, they sometimes took classes together.

“I have to give her a lot of credit,” Robert said. “She sat right next to me.” 

“I’m proud of him,” added Mary, who said the two would sometimes compare notes. “With papers, sometimes we would bounce ideas off of each other or talk about classes that maybe one of us had already to clarify information that we may have not quite gotten in class.”

Kean University’s family connections go further for both the Valenzuelas and Knights. Frezia and Priscilla both earned their bachelor’s degrees at Kean — Frezia in 2011 and Priscilla in 2019 — and Frezia’s son is also a Kean graduate. Robert Knight’s wife also graduated from Kean.

Choosing the University was a natural choice for both families.

“I definitely felt very comfortable at Kean, and the faculty were super supportive during undergrad,” Priscilla said. “I knew that if I continued with the master's program, I would see the same faculty, and they would continue to support me.”

“It was clear the professors wanted you to succeed,” Robert said. 

Both families had double the cheers at their Commencement ceremonies.

“Walking alongside my biggest role model is emotional,” Priscilla said. “My parents and grandparents were there, so there was a lot of love.”