Kean University Celebrates Nearly 4,000 Graduates in Virtual Commencement
UNION, N.J. — The first Kean University class to graduate in a virtual Commencement celebrated today in a ceremony complete with a tassel turn, personalized videos and speeches from special guests including Whoopi Goldberg.
Nearly 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students earning degrees in dozens of fields marked the joyous day in living rooms, backyards and chat rooms during the online event.
Goldberg, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Martin Luther King III as well as student and academic leaders addressed the graduates and their families as thousands shared their congratulations with the class over social media.
“I know it hasn’t been easy, but you have done an amazing job. I am so proud of what you have achieved,” said Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., as he conferred bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees upon his last Kean graduating class after serving 17 years as president.
A total of 3,248 undergraduates and 690 graduate students received degrees.
Valedictorian Ariella Askew, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in science and technology/molecular biology, spoke of her classmates’ strength in overcoming the obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said students accomplished the unimaginable.
“This could easily have been an insurmountable challenge. But did we give up? No. Did we crumble under pressure? No,” she said. “We, the Class of 2020, will have our chance, and we will bring the light back into the world.”
In his remarks, Booker also spoke of the circumstances facing the 2020 graduates and said that despite them, “we get to choose our response.”
“That’s your power,” he said. “Bring your power, your power of love. That’s what this world needs right now. Don’t underestimate your power. Use it every day to make a difference in this world that so needs you.”
The virtual Commencement included a YouTube premiere video with all the traditional elements of the ceremony, plus an online platform for individual graduate profiles that included a reading of each graduate’s name. An interactive board displayed live social media content.
Throughout the online event, graduates and their family, friends and supporters sent emoji-filled congratulations and individual shout-outs to the Class of 2020.
The Commencement program will remain available on the website for viewing and sharing through June 15.
Kean Board of Trustees Chair Ada Morell ’97 noted that many in the Kean family have worked on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, struggled with illness or lost loved ones. She called for a moment of silence to remember them.
“Together we have faced some unprecedented challenges,” she said. “With every challenge, comes opportunity and reflection.”
Goldberg, the award-winning actress, also spoke of the pandemic, praising the graduates’ resilience and strength during the past few months.
“Nothing could prepare you for adulthood more than this pandemic,” she said in her address. “Don’t let anyone tell you 2020 was a bad year. This is the year of you. This is the year when you decide who you’re going to be … and you implement it.”
“Congratulations everyone!” a smiling Goldberg added.
Students and their families and friends gathered to mark the milestone together.
Tyshiana Johnson of Rahway, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in communication-public relations, watched her Commencement ceremony with a gathering of aunts, uncles and her mom and brothers, in her aunt’s living room. When they saw her name appear on the screen, she said, they all began screaming in excitement.
“It felt good once you see your name,” she said. “It’s the accomplishment — the virtual doesn’t matter so much.”
Natasha Rosario of Old Bridge, who also received her Bachelor of Arts degree in communication-public relations, celebrated with her mother, brother, grandparents and boyfriend.
“I actually really enjoyed the virtual commencement. It was really nice to sit at home with my family and enjoy this special moment together,” she said.
Emely Hernandez of Union City graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, with minors in management and women and gender studies. She celebrated with her mom, sister, brother-in-law and other proud family members.
“I thought the ceremony was really nice, all the speeches were beautiful and relevant. It was obvious it was for us and no one else,” she said.
Also speaking via video to the graduates was human rights activist Martin Luther King III. He gave a Distinguished Lecture address at Kean in February, following in the footsteps of his late father, Martin Luther King Jr., who also spoke at the University.
King commended the graduates’ accomplishment during a challenging year.
“You rose to the challenge with admirable commitment,” he said. “Now you begin another journey. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will be a changed world. But don’t be discouraged.
“Keep your faith, keep your integrity and keep your eyes on the prize. Our world urgently needs you and your vision and your compassion,” King said. “Whatever path you choose, take it with love and you’ll be all right. You got this.”