Northeastern University faculty members reflect on their commencement ceremonies

Graduates of the Class of 1964 fill the old Boston Garden for Commencement. Photo courtesy of Northeastern University Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections.

Commencement is here.

To celebrate the big day, we asked five faculty members from across Northeastern’s schools and colleges to reflect upon their own graduation ceremonies.

Some of their stories inspire laughter (one ceremony nearly included a cat), while others trigger nostalgia (one faculty member shared his quart of frozen iced tea with his fellow graduates). But at the core of all of them is a fondness for the friends they made along the way.

Laura Dudley, assistant clinical professor and director of the Applied Behavioral Analysis programs, who graduated from Bowdoin College in 1994 with a bachelor of arts in French and history:

“I attended a small liberal arts college in Maine in the mid-90s. My graduation came on the heels of a recession caused by a savings and loan crisis. Jobs were in short supply. In short, I didn’t have one. This led to some underlying anxiety on my part at my commencement. I also felt sadness at having to part with my closest friends (this was before the internet or social media). But, in spite of the fact that I had no job prospects, somehow I managed to feel excited and hopeful for the future. All of my belongings were boxed up and loaded into my boyfriend’s pick-up truck, ready to be hauled down to Boston, and I was ready (I thought) to enter the real world.

“Yes, graduation is an important rite of passage. What I didn’t know at the time of my own graduation was that I would eventually spend another eight years in graduate school, and I would end up pursuing a career in higher education (in none of the fields that I majored in). I have found that what has been most important in my personal and professional journey—more than my coursework, degree, or even the colleges I attended—were the people I met along the way. My close friends remained my close friends. And many of the people who were acquaintances have returned in my life in unexpected ways. So I agree with David Foster Wallace’s message that what is important in life is our connection to one another.”

David Lazer, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science, who graduated from Wesleyan University in 1988 with a bachelor of arts in political science:

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

“I mainly remember it for being very hot, and feeling like I was baking in my robes (Wesleyan ceremonies are outside). I had frozen a quart of iced tea, which I kept under the robe. It served the dual purpose of keeping me cooler and providing hydration as it melted—I recall passing it around to my thirsty neighbors among my fellow graduates—a last moment of class solidarity before we dispersed.”

Hillary Chute, Distinguished Professor of English and Art and Design, who graduated from Oberlin College in 1998 with a bachelor of arts in English:

“Oberlin has some really interesting graduates, including lots of musicians (I was there with members of the band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, for instance), actors (Lena Dunham), and writers (Kiese Laymon, Gary Shteyngart). I loved it there.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

For my commencement in 1998, I am happy to report that the speaker was Damon J. Keith, the federal judge and civil rights icon who is being celebrated and remembered this week as he died April 28 at age 96, never having retired from the bench.

“For my commencement, I almost didn’t make it to the seats and stage! I lived in an off-campus house near the green in the center of the town where graduation was taking place. After leaving my house in the morning, and cutting several blocks to the green through downtown Oberlin, I noticed my cat Arthur, less than a year old, was following me to graduation! So I had to grab him and run back and lock him inside my house, terrifying my parents who noticed I wasn’t in line when they arrived. Perhaps it’s because I was so eager to just get there that I don’t remember what anyone said!”

Leila Deravi, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, who graduated from the University of Alabama in 2005 with a bachelor of science in chemistry:

“My PhD hooding ceremony was outside in May in Nashville, Tennessee, so I was feeling very, very warm! But, it was also just such an exciting time. It was the culmination of over eight years of schooling for me to get this terminal degree, so I was just thrilled that it was over!

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

I also got to walk with two of my other labmates who were also some of my best friends, so it made the day even more special for me to share the experience with them. The day of commencement goes by in a flash, so my advice would be to try to slow down and soak it all in (and also stay hydrated! Some ceremonies can last a LONG time).”

Jerome Hajjar, CDM Smith Professor and chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, who graduated from Yale University in 1982 with a bachelor of science in engineering mechanics:

“At my undergraduate graduation, I remember feeling pride, but also sadness at having to move on from a wonderful experience with friends and faculty. I loved college—I learned so much, and still have many lasting friendships.  

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“The commencement speaker was John Glenn, nearly 20 years after he was the first person to orbit the Earth. He was a U.S. senator at the time of his speech. I remember that his speech was measured, but with two main messages: act with integrity at all times, and support communal investment in our society, since we all reap the benefits from that every day. Those two messages remain fundamental today for acting as an individual and acting as a collective.

“I also remember that it rained and rained and rained, and the ceremony was outside. Picture everyone in TD Garden being totally soaked before, during, and after the ceremony. Lining up hours ahead of time: torrential rain. Marching in and out: torrential rain. Sitting in our seats: torrential rain. Our families also were outside the entire time. Only the platform party was under a roof. I remember the reverend who opened the ceremony went a bit off script by saying “You will never forget being part of the most massive baptism in the history of the United States.” It was a memorable ending to four remarkable years.”

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