UNION, New Jersey (WABC) -- The pandemic has led many schools to get creative when it comes to their graduation ceremonies, and Kean University in New Jersey is doing just that by celebrating the Class of 2021 with 10 separate in-person ceremonies.
The smaller commencement ceremonies will all be at their Alumni Stadium in Union, with the first held Wednesday.
"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."
Each ceremony features students from different Kean colleges and follows state and federal COVID-19 safety protocols, including social distancing, face masks and limited capacity.
"It is a switch from our usual large commencement, but worth it to celebrate a class that has been through a lot," school officials said in a statement. "Their last three semesters were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they carried on."
Kean's 2021 graduating class of 3,748 includes 3,003 undergraduates and 745 graduate students.
Additional ceremonies scheduled for this week include events Thursday and Friday.
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."
Each commencement ceremony begins with a welcome by a member of the Kean University Board of Trustees. Deans of each academic college at Kean deliver messages to the graduates, and student vocalists perform the Star-Spangled Banner.
Each ceremony is 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.
"Not even a pandemic could stop us from accomplishing and attaining a degree," she said. "Looking at everyone now, I see a generation filled with the dreamers, the realists, the visionaries and the action takers. 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!"
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?"