UNION, NJ — Nearly 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students participated in Kean University’s virtual Commencement ceremony on Friday, complete with a tassel turn, personalized videos and speeches from special guests including Whoopi Goldberg.

A total of 3,248 undergraduates and 690 graduate students received degrees.

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.

Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“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. 

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.

The Commencement program will remain available on the website for viewing and sharing through June 15.

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.

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.”