The first class of Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences was honored on Monday by the college’s namesake, accomplished entrepreneur Amin Khoury, who urged the students to marry their technical knowledge with a sense of faith in their own humanity.
“Those human connections—with spouses and children and friends—may be the most important investments you will ever make,” Khoury said during his address at the graduate commencement ceremony. “Don’t ever forget that a life must have joy. It is supposed to be fun.”
The setting of Matthews Arena, the world’s oldest ice hockey arena, underscored the timeless advice Khoury offered to graduates. Last month, at a ceremony to officially rename the college in honor of him and his wife, Julie, Khoury predicted that Northeastern students would lead a digital revolution; now he was encouraging them to strengthen their work by listening to their own hearts.
As much as they should focus on working hard, getting all of the details right, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible, Khoury, said, students must also trust their instincts.
“There will be times during your lives when you will have to think beyond your training as a computer scientist,” Khoury said. “There are times when reliance on gut intuition can and should take over, when a particular course of action just feels right. Interestingly, I’ve discovered it’s in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition is indispensable in getting it right, and can lead to finding that joy in life.”
His point of view was a personalized affirmation of the university’s academic plan, Northeastern 2025, which embraces the benefits of lifelong learning, combined with interdisciplinary and experiential education and an approach to learning called humanics—a fusion of data literacy, tech literacy, and human literacy.
The mission of Khoury College, as asserted at the graduation ceremony by Carla Brodley, dean of the college, is “computer science for everyone.” That theme was amplified by the student speaker, Sarah Hager, a Pennsylvania native who was homeschooled until age 19.
“Pretty much all the math I learned by the time I got to college, I had taught myself,” said Hager, who was graduating with a masters degree in computer science. “I barely knew what a computer was capable of. And the internet? What was that?”
The alumni speaker, Rekha Kamat, was recently named to Boston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40.” She told the story of her journey from India to Northeastern.
“When companies look for new employees, they look for more than skills—they are looking for change agents,” said Kamat, a strategic business development executive at Dassault Systèmes, a European software company. “You will change the way we think, communicate, and experience the world around us. You will transform the world.”
The interdisciplinary ideal was evoked by Khoury as he encouraged the inaugural class of graduates to enhance their focus by broadening their perspectives.
The Khoury College of Computer Sciences offers a comprehensive computer science curriculum with particular leadership in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cybersecurity in an increasingly digitally connected world. It is one of the first named colleges of computer science in the United States. Over the past decade, computer science enrollment at Northeastern has skyrocketed, and now stands at 3,474 students. Simultaneously, the academic quality of computer science applicants—already at a high level—continues to rise each year.
In his remarks, Khoury referred to his own entrepreneurial journey, which began in Boston in 1968, when Greylock partner Dan Gregory financed Khoury’s medical products and services startup in partnership with Damon Engineering, a Boston-based defense electronics company.
A relentless entrepreneur, Khoury had launched several other companies when he recognized an opportunity in the aerospace industry, which was fragmented, with a number of small players who supplied airlines with various cabin interior components. In 1987, he founded BE Aerospace, which consolidated these airline products under one roof to become the leading global manufacturer and service provider of cabin interiors on behalf of virtually every airline around the world. It is his signature business achievement.
Amin and Julie Khoury met at Northeastern while both were earning their MBAs.
“When I think back about my own life I can truly say that the greatest joys that I have experienced came not from my business success, but rather from attending my kids’ athletic events, helping them with their academic pursuits, and then later in life helping them to build their businesses,” Amin Khoury said. “As I think about how I would rank the joy that comes from making money? Well, that is maybe seventh or eighth on the scorecard of life—way below the joy that comes from giving away money in an effort to help others.”
Khoury announced in December that he was providing the college with a $50 million endowment. Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun has pledged that the Khoury College will be the premier college in its field within five years.
“The world is on the precipice of a sweeping technological revolution, wherein we have begun to rely on machines powered by data and algorithms,” Khoury said of the era of artificial intelligence. “This new AI world is incredibly more complex than the world I had to face many years ago.
“Northeastern University may very well be the location of the nexus of computer science and engineering with entrepreneurship. As a result, you have all the tools you’ll need in your brains; and if you’ll complement those tools with those in your hearts, your life’s journey will be successful, gratifying, and enjoyable.”