Father-son duo graduate from William Paterson University together
By LINDA MOSS
Like father, like son.
Duvinson Jeanty, a 63-year-old Haitian immigrant and Montclair resident and his son Benjamin, 27, are living the American Dream. Both men graduated from William Paterson College last week, the first in their family to earn college degrees. The father, who majored in finance, and the son, a psychology major, were among the nearly 2,300 people who received their diplomas at a commencement held at the Prudential Center in Newark.
The family celebrated the double graduations with a lunch at the elder Jeanty’s favorite spot, Noches de Colombia on Elm Street in Montclair, which about 30 people attended.
“It was a big crowd,” Jeanty said.
For the Jeanty men, perseverance paid off.
The elder Jeanty, who retired as a full-time NJ Transit bus driver in 2016, took years to obtain his degree. He came to the United State in 1983 without much, but said that his parents had instilled in him the value of an education, which he never forgot. But he had to settle in before he was able to afford to go to college, and was caring for his bedridden elderly mother at home, as well. He spoke Creole, French and Spanish, but not much English when he arrived in the states.
Jeanty recalled his first job at the Friar Tuck Inn, now The Grove, in Cedar Grove, taking home less than $100 a week as a dishwasher. He took a second job at a factory in Newark, so he was working 80 hours a week and barely making $200.
In 1986 he took some classes at Essex County College but couldn’t keep it up because of his two-job work schedule. But Jeanty’s financial situation improved in 1991 when, “with the Lord’s blessing,” he got a job as a bus driver for NJ Transit.
In 2007 Jeanty decided to go back to college part-time, attending Passaic Community College in Paterson. He finished his studies at the school in 2015, and in 2016 retired from NJ Transit as a full-time bus driver and started going to William Paterson.
He still has to take several classes this summer to fulfill his degree requirements. The university allows students like Jeanty to participate in the May commencement ceremony if they document they will finish their courses by August, according to a university spokeswoman.
Jeanty said he was never daunted by being surrounded by younger students.
“I’ve always been the oldest student in the classroom,” he said. “Sometimes I came across students who could have been my grandchildren. ... I was highly motivated. I just pushed it aside.”
His son, Benjamin, also took a somewhat roundabout path to get his sheepskin, and like his father ultimately ended up at William Paterson. When he was at Montclair High School, Benjamin said, he had a lot of reservations about going on to college, because he wasn’t sure if he could afford it or what he wanted to study.
“My father, despite all the challenges that he up against him — taking care of my grandmother and providing for us, working full-time — he decided to go to college,” the younger Jeanty said.
“That was my junior year,” he said. “It was a lot on the family. … But he still saw the need to pursue an education for himself. And that marked me. So because of that I started to develop a desire, a passion, to go.”
So in 2008 when he graduated from high school with several scholarships, Benjamin went to Rutgers University in Newark. But after a year and half, he said, “This is not for me.”
He went to work full-time at the Smashburger on Bloomfield Avenue in Glen Ridge in 2010, starting as a dishwasher. Within eight months, he was a manager and was making good money. But, he said, it wasn’t enough.
“Money comes and goes, but what am I doing for my community?” he said. “What am I doing for myself? What’s my long-term goal? How can I achieve that through Smashburger? I really can’t. I really have a heart for people and a heart for service.”
So he went back to school part-time, starting at Rutgers again and last year transferring to William Paterson while working full-time as a teaching assistant at the Therapeutic School and Preschool in Belleville.
Both the Jeanty men plan to continue their education and obtain master’s degrees. The elder Jeanty, who is working as a real estate agent at Realty Executives International in Fairfield, said he plans to get an MBA from William Paterson and wants to start his own business. He is interested in investing in real estate, and sees the problems people have obtaining housing in this economic environment.
“I got so much from this country so I want to give back by helping families,” Jeanty said.
Benjamin hopes to get an advanced degree from the New School in Manhattan, where he wants to study urban policy.
Next month Benjamin is going to Haiti for 13 days with the Vital Foundation, which serves orphans in Haiti. The group will be building a cafeteria and recreation center for kids.
The Jeanty family is still has an undergraduate at William Paterson. Claire Jeanty, 22, Duvinson’s daughter and Benjamin’s sister, is studying physical therapy at the college. She will be a senior this fall.
Like father, like son, like daughter.