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Degrees in hand, Northeastern graduates are off to ‘WERK’

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The floorboards at TD Garden rumbled as 22,000 friends and family members roared in celebration when Northeastern University graduates flipped the tassels from the right of their mortar boards to the left. The din of appreciation drowned out the Northeastern Wind Ensemble’s rendition of Pomp and Circumstance, and more than 4,000 students received their degrees in the university’s 116th Commencement.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun lauded the graduates’ many achievements and called on them to continue learning and innovating.

“Yours is the first generation to work and live alongside intelligent machines,” he said. “At countless tasks, machines are learning to outperform human beings. So we must learn, too, or we become obsolete. Learning is my shield against irrelevance.”

Similarly, Aimée Mullins, the actor, activist, and Paralympian who delivered this year’s Commencement address, challenged graduates to embrace the unknown—to continue learning well past graduation.

“I’d like you to remember that naiveté, curiosity, and daydreaming are tools for building a better life, and you should be reaching into your toolbox for them often,” Mullins said.

Photos by Billie Weiss for Northeastern University

Throughout the day, excitement crackled through a TD Garden ringed with scarlet and white LED ribbon banners that blazed “Northeastern University,” as students representing more than 150 different countries prepared for the big moment.

Asked to describe his time at Northeastern in one phrase, graduate James Gonsalves said, “WERK! In all caps, of course.”

The phrase (always vocalized in capital letters) is a colloquial way of expressing having done something in an exceptional capacity. And Gonsalves, who earned his Bachelor of Arts in communication studies, as well as his fellow graduates, has certainly achieved something exceptional.

“I’m feeling so good, so energetic, so spunky, so funky, so joyous—all of it. I’m ready to head out into the world and make a statement,” he said.

It was a sentiment shared by many in the sea of graduates Friday.

“We finally made it!” said Shelly Chipimo, who earned her Bachelor of Science in architecture and will be returning to Northeastern in the fall for graduate school. In the meantime, though? “Sleep,” she said.

Sofia Bejar, who earned her Bachelor of Science in international business, was standing just outside the Garden prior to the formal start of Commencement. She’ll be returning to her native Spain to work at banking giant JP Morgan after graduation, and she was soaking up one of her final moments in Boston.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University


“This is kind of it,” she said. “All of a sudden I’m a little sad to see it go.” Bejar reflected on some of her early days at Northeastern, recalling the friends she made. “We were just three girls in an empty apartment at first. We’ve come a long way since then.”

Carly Parlato, who gave the student address Friday, seemed to agree.

“We have arrived,” she said to the rows of classmates seated before her. “It was no small effort to get here,” she added, thanking the families, professors, and mentors who helped her and her peers along the way.

“I have endless belief in us, in this room, to change the world, to make a serious and significant positive in all industries we want to work in, to create new ones where they don’t exist yet,” she said.

Parlato told the crowd a story from the last day of her co-op, when she finally took a dip in Boston Harbor after passing by it twice a day during her commute for the past six months. It was cold (and gross), she said, but the experience taught her a few things.

“You are capable of deviating from your routine, embracing your fears, and changing the very structures you’re trying to climb,” said Parlato, who earned her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and will begin working at SpaceX in June.

Aoun summarized the theme of the afternoon in his charge to the newly minted graduates.

“Continue your discoveries—never see boundaries, only new horizons,” he said, “and remember that wherever you are, wherever you go, Northeastern will be there with you and for you.”

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Then, Aoun and Mullins produced beach balls decorated like globes, and tossed them into the audience while Aoun added, “as far as we’re concerned now, though, we’re done and we’re going to the beach.”

Honorary degree recipients

Northeastern conferred honorary degrees upon a group of influential leaders and figures Friday: Mullins; Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS; John Sexton, president emeritus and professor at New York University; and Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Left: Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University Right: Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

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