A first-generation American who thought he would be the first in his family to graduate from college ended up sharing the moment with his 63-year-old father — and he couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s incredible,” Ben Jeanty, 27, tells PEOPLE of graduating with his dad, Duvinson, a Haitian immigrant who drove an NJ Transit bus for more than 25 years. “I always had it in my mind to graduate college, but to graduate with my dad? It’s indescribable!”
The pair recently received their diplomas from William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey — Ben in psychology and Duvinson in finance.
Ben says his dad initially enrolled in college part-time at age 53 when the father-of-four was still working as a bus driver and caring for his ailing mother. He first earned an associate’s degree from Passaic County Community College last year.
“Growing up and seeing the way he took care of my grandmother and all of us — it was a lot,” Ben says. “Sometimes he was stuck working in the city until two, three in the morning. He never took a day off and helped everyone he encountered.”
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Ben says he couldn’t ask for a better role model: “His drive inspired me to keep going despite what challenges I encountered.”
Even so, Ben admits his bond with his father wasn’t always perfect — and a couple of years ago they had a disagreement that “caused some distance between the two of us.”
However, the pair reconciled and Ben transferred from Rutgers (where he had been taking classes on and off for several years) to William Paterson to be closer to his dad.
“What better way to show him I appreciate and love him and am in his corner than to graduate with him,” he says.
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Now, Ben aims to earn a master’s in urban policy analysis while Duvinson formed Genevieve Investment Solutions (named in honor of his mother) to help families get their finances in order.
“He wants to help first-time home buyers with their properties, to have their American dream because he struggled a lot,” Ben says.
Partly inspired by his father’s selflessness, Ben also plans to travel to Haiti next month with the Vital Foundation to deliver the $2,700 he raised for an orphanage there in honor of his recent 27th birthday.
“He gave us that example,” Ben says of his father’s drive and selflessness. “I always had in my mind that I would finish college, and obviously he did, too.”