Marathon first responders honored at Commencement

At Northeastern’s 111th Commencement on Friday, the university celebrated the Class of 2013 and honored the first responders and law enforcement who nearly three weeks earlier selflessly sprung into action following the Boston Marathon bombings.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III accepted the honorary degree on behalf of all first responders and law enforcement, who were also represented at the ceremony by a group from area hospitals and the Boston Police Department, the Watertown Police Department, the Boston Fire Department, and Boston EMS. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick read the honorary degree at the ceremony, held at TD Garden in Boston.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun lauded the men and women—many of whom were from the Northeastern community—whose actions, he said, revealed Boston’s character to the rest of the world.

Aoun said those actions have shed light on three lessons: putting the needs of others before ourselves, being prepared for the unknown and unexpected, and proving that the power of community can heal us when individuals hurt us. Yet he said these lessons have not just emerged out of crisis; the graduating seniors’ Northeastern education has already taught them these lessons. “Education allows us to meet challenges we haven’t even conceived,” he said.

The president praised seniors for all their remarkable achievements at Northeastern and said they are “ready to take on the world.”

“No matter where your individual path leads, I know you will carry this university, and this city, forever in your hearts," Aoun said. "All of us will remain 'Northeastern Together' and 'Boston Strong.'”

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Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group and a global health expert, delivered the Commencement address at the undergraduate ceremony. In his inspiring and witty speech, Kim noted a recent study by a group of psychologists published in the journal Science, which found that people are extremely poor at predicting their futures. These findings, he said, are essentially the story of his life. He described his Korean parents' remarkable journeys to escape their homeland, overcome adversity, and through unthinkably divergent and unlikely paths, meet at a holiday party in New York City.

Kim’s parents’ experiences have helped teach him to embrace unexpected opportunities in life. In his accomplished career, Kim has co-founded the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health, led the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS initiative to treat 3 million people in developing countries by 2005, and was nominated last year by President Barack Obama to lead the World Bank Group.

Kim told the seniors that their Northeastern education—particularly through experiential learning—has given them a head start on achieving their own successes. The abundant tools they’ve received at Northeastern, he said, will allow them to face uncertainty and lead extraordinary lives.

“Northeastern’s co-op program and emphasis on experiential learning make this one of the most innovative educational models in the world today. With co-op options in more than 90 countries, this university has given you unexcelled education. Countries around the world, including the United States, are searching for ways to overhaul higher education, and they’re looking to Northeastern’s example,” he said.

In closing, Kim challenged graduating seniors to "set bold goals, deliberately and consciously build your willpower, and use your time well." He urged graduates to embrace the uncertainty in their futures, rather than fear it. “Uncertainty means that nothing is predetermined. Uncertainty means that the future is yours to shape—with the force of your will, the force of your intellect, and the force of your compassion. Uncertainty is freedom. Take that freedom and run with it.”

“No matter where your individual path leads, I know you will carry this university, and this city, forever in your hearts," Aoun said. "All of us will remain 'Northeastern Together' and 'Boston Strong.'”

Miguel de Corral, a senior international affairs major who has worked, studied, and conducted research in 16 countries around the world, delivered the student Commencement address. He said Northeastern has helped him grasp the value of a global education through experiences that include co-ops at NATO and the United Nations and studying Egyptian politics in Cairo and Syrian history in Damascus.

De Corral said he’s been marveled by his peers’ achievements, which include creating vibrant small businesses and engineering impressive advances in technology. Yet these accomplishments, he said, must not make the Class of 2013 complacent.

“The opportunities are endless if we face the future with the same determination and work ethic that has characterized these last few years. In our ranks surely lie the next healthcare professionals, the next global business leaders, the next diplomats, the next policymakers, and of course, a generation of global citizens ready to change the world,” de Corral said. This determination and ambition must be matched by an uncompromising commitment to important values like humility, compassion, integrity, and solidarity, he added.

At the undergraduate ceremony, Northeastern also presented honorary degrees to two influential leaders: Jack D. Bryant, an innovator in the engineering industry, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, and a member of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, who earned his master’s degree in engineering management from Northeastern in 1976; and Barbara Lynch, an award-winning and nationally recognized chef who grew up in South Boston. Bryant, president of Bryant Associates, received an honorary doctor of engineering. Lynch, CEO of Barbara Lynch Gruppo, received an honorary doctor of public service.

During the ceremony, Northeastern also recognized the Golden Graduates in attendance—alumni representatives of the Class of 1963.

In closing remarks, Aoun said the hallmark of a Northeastern student is being both a scholar and a doer. Through their education and co-op experiences, he said seniors have gained a global perspective and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Aoun then offered his charge to graduating seniors. "This Commencement is the moment when the mantle of leadership is passed to you," he said. "Lead the world—change it and transform it. Shape your own destinies and re-shape the world. You are no longer in our hands—we are in yours."

Later in the day, some 1,600 students received advanced degrees at a ceremony in Matthews Arena.

Graduate ceremony Commencement speaker Nikesh Arora challenged the graduates to change the world by solving the seemingly unsolvable. “Use the power of imagination to turn a problem upside down,” said Arora, who earned a master’s of business administration from Northeastern in 1992 and currently serves as senior vice president and chief business officer at Google.

Top thinkers at Google, he explained, apply the 10X rule when designing innovative solutions to industry problems. That is, they try to improve a process or service tenfold. “A big part of 10X thinking is learning how to live outside your comfort zone and taking risks,” he told the graduates, noting Google’s revolutionary idea to map the country by taking photos from small planes. “Give the world what it doesn’t know it even needs.”

He urged the graduates to embrace that opportunity, noting that you can “always say ‘no’ later,” and then quoted a famous saying: “‘A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.’”

Prior to his speech, Arora received an honorary doctorate of commerce. In his introduction of the Google executive, Aoun characterized Arora as the “driving force behind Google’s new products and partnerships in emerging nations.” Arora, he said, has “succeeded by pursuing his passion to make a difference. His deep commitment to innovation and global partnerships inspire us all.”

For full news coverage of Northeastern’s 2013 Commencement exercises, visit the news@Northeastern Commencement page.

Staff writer Jason Kornwitz contributed to this story.

Watch the time lapse video of Commencement at the TD Garden.