UNION, NJ — Kean University valedictorian Jason Antunes and graduate student with distinction Jeminat Musa, both of whom addressed their classmates at the university’s 2021 commencement ceremonies, said they found their passion and their way at Kean.
Antunes, of Monroe, graduated with a grade-point average of 4.0 in mathematical sciences and K-12 education. While at Kean, he was involved in the Leadership Institute, Portuguese American Club, Tomorrow’s Teachers and other organizations.
“It was surreal,” Antunes said of being chosen as valedictorian and speaking to the Class of 2021. “The last thing going through my mind was that I’d be graduating top of my class on the stage next to the president. It felt great to know that all my work over these past four years paid off in a single moment.”
Antunes began as an accounting major at Kean, but switched to math and education in his junior year after an internship at a tax firm convinced him he did not want a corporate career. After making the change, he maxxed out on credits each semester and took five courses over the summer to stay on track for graduation. Through it all, he maintained his perfect academic record.
“Looking back, there was never a moment where I didn’t give 100-percent effort,” he said.
When Musa, an Irvington resident who came to the United States from Nigeria three years ago, learned she would speak at commencement, she called her husband.
“He started screaming because he has lived here for a long time, so he understood what it meant. It is a huge honor, and I was so happy,” she said.
Musa graduated with a Master of Science in accounting, with a straight-A record. It is her third degree. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA from universities in Nigeria.
When she moved to the United States, Musa was certain that she would begin a career in business. But opportunities did not come her way, she told her fellow graduates and guests at commencement. Her husband urged her to get a degree from an American university, and she decided to enroll at Kean after attending a graduate open house.
“I saw the diversity at Kean, and that meant there was opportunity for me as well,” she said. “It just made me feel at home.”
Musa worked full time on the overnight shift at Newark Liberty Airport, cleaning planes in order to pursue her dream of a degree from Kean.
“During the day, I was focusing on school, then at night, I was cleaning planes at the airport,” she said. “I won’t lie: It was not easy.”
Once enrolled at Kean, she said she recognized the importance of having an American academic experience.
“One major thing that I have learned at Kean is being confident, believing in myself, being bold and speaking up,” she said. “Professors at Kean will push you to present your papers to your fellow classmates. So now when they say, ‘You have a presentation to present to the board of directors,’ it is no big deal because it’s something I have learned in school. I would never have been able to give a commencement speech, if not because of that training I have received from Kean.”
Musa has started a job with the financial intelligence unit at Treliant and will study for the CPA exam. She said she will carry the lessons she learned at Kean into the next chapter of her life.
“What I’ve learned from this experience is that success and excellence don’t happen by chance,” she said. “It takes intention. Just think, if I had let myself accept defeat, I would have not been here today, being celebrated like this.”
Antunes, meanwhile, will be teaching math at Howell High School starting in the fall.
“Every step of this journey was worth it, and our resilience is what makes our class truly unique and special,” Antunes told Kean’s graduating class. “I started at Kean University as a student and will be leaving as a teacher thanks to this world-class institution, ready to pass on the information I have learned.
“I’m honestly really sad to be leaving Kean,” he added after the ceremony. “I could not have asked for a better college experience.”