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Two Northeastern graduates to head Massachusetts Legislature for first time

With Thursday’s election of Karen Spilka as president of the Massachusetts Senate, both chambers of the state legislature will be headed by Northeastern graduates for the first time in history.

Spilka, who graduated from Northeastern’s School of Law in 1980, joins House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who graduated from Northeastern in 1972 with a bachelor of arts degree.

“I am so thrilled that we will get to write the next chapter of this wonderful, esteemed institution together,” Spilka told Senate members on Thursday. “And so I stand before you incredibly humbled, honored, and ready to be your next Senate president.”

Both Spilka and DeLeo credit Northeastern’s co-op program with helping them find their career paths.

“Like so many other students, I was drawn to the co-op program when I chose Northeastern’s School of Law,” Spilka said. “I ended up choosing my career as a labor and employment attorney because of my real world experience there.”

DeLeo said that his co-op job at Liberty Mutual Insurance, where he frequently worked with attorneys, inspired him to attend law school.

In this file photo from 2012, Northeastern students meet with House Speaker Robert DeLeo during Student Financial Aid Advocacy Day at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

“The co-op education I got at Northeastern University was a major ingredient [in my college experience],” DeLeo said at an event on campus in 2009. “That’s what is really so important about a Northeastern education. It gives students the opportunity to work in the real world.”

Spilka, who has served on the Senate since 2004, succeeds Harriette Chandler as Senate president. Chandler took over after Stan Rosenberg resigned in December amid an ethics investigation. DeLeo has served as speaker of the House since 2009.

Spilka ran against Republican Sen. Bruce Tarr and received 31 of 38 votes. She will leave her role as the chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to head the Senate.

“I feel very comfortable and I’m actually looking forward to working with Bob on this level,” Spilka told WGBH, referring to DeLeo, “and I think it’ll be an exciting time for the legislature.”

Spilka and DeLeo are among four Northeastern graduates who have lead the state legislature. Thomas Finneran, who graduated from Northeastern with a degree in business administration and finance in 1973, served as speaker of the House from 1996 to 2004. Therese Murray, who graduated from Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies in 1993, served as president of the Senate from 2007 to 2015.

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