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Northeastern University 2019 Commencement Ceremony: Remarks by President Joseph E. Aoun

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

TRANSCRIPT

Reinvent yourself so that you can reinvent the world

Good morning, and welcome to Northeastern’s 117th commencement!

Welcome to our Golden Graduates, who finished their studies more than 50 years ago. Golden graduates, please stand. Let’s give them a round of applause.

Graduates, I want you to picture yourselves in those golden gowns 50 years from now. Imagine our world in 2069. You will be the architects of this world.
When I look at all of you, I know we are in good hands.

Parents, families, friends, spouses, and partners: We share your joy on this day. You have supported your loved ones throughout their journey. They could not have reached this milestone without you. Class of 2019, please rise and thank them for all they have done.

Let us also acknowledge the faculty and staff who have helped you throughout these years of learning and discovery. Please give them your applause.

To the Class of 2019, congratulations. To our commencement speaker and our honorary degree recipients, you will always have a place in the Northeastern family.

Graduates, your Northeastern education has made you skillful and agile—almost as agile as a university president running behind schedule. It has instilled you with the values and knowledge to excel in whatever you choose. You are well prepared for the next steps in your journey—wherever it may lead. But your learning does not end with this ceremony.

“Commencement,” after all, is about beginnings.

So . . . where are you headed? Let’s view your years at Northeastern through a different lens: the lens of reinvention. Reinvention isn’t the accumulation of ideas. It’s much more than a skill or an acumen.

Reinvention is how we truly progress. Reinvention requires agility, resilience, and creativity. Reinvention comes through experience.

Experience is at the heart of every Northeastern education. Later this morning, you will hear a powerful story of experience.

Our commencement speaker, Tara Westover, wrote a moving and resonant book about hardship, courage, and self-belief. Her story of reinvention is driven by wrenching personal circumstances. Each of you can also tell your own tale of reinvention.

Many of you came here from far away. You left the comfort zones of native languages and familiar norms. I know firsthand how daunting that experience can be. One of the many reinventions in my life occurred when I landed here here as an international student.

You may not have crossed such long distances. But each of you embraced experiences that reshaped your path: The combined majors that offered you challenge and achievement; the research and entrepreneurship opportunities that transformed you from student to creator; and the global experiences that broadened the arc of your dreams.

Now is the moment for all of you to wave your flags!

Let me introduce you to one of your classmates, Claire Celestin. Claire’s journey began in small-town New Hampshire. Academic success was Claire’s escape plan, and it led her straight to Northeastern. But not to a clear path forward.

Claire was an excellent student, but this wasn’t enough. She wanted to speak for those whose voices went unheard. But how? Claire’s dreams ranged from teacher to doctor—and back again.

“All the while,” she says, “I was still wrestling with what made me tick.”

She found the answer nearly 4,000 miles away, in a part of the Andes mountains known as Sacred Valley. On co-op in a busy Peruvian hospital, she found herself in the maternity ward. She was shocked to see doctors treating women like problems to be solved, not patients to be cared for. But then a force of nature arrived, a midwife named Ruro.

Ruro taught the women to trust their bodies. Ruro empowered them to take charge of their delivery. Under Ruro’s guidance, Claire found what made her tick. Claire’s path became obvious.

She would help women reclaim their voices, their strength, and themselves.

Today, Claire graduates as a Marshall Scholar. She will study women’s and children’s health in the UK before going to medical school. Striving to give voices to others, Claire found her own voice, and her own calling.

Claire experienced the greatest gift of a Northeastern education: The ability to reinvent herself with purpose.

In the age of intelligent machines, this gift has never been more precious. At countless tasks, machines are outperforming human beings. This will affect us all. In a future of machine intelligence, reinvention gives us humans an edge.

Machines cannot draw on experience to reinvent themselves. Artificial intelligence cannot harness the empathy to heal conflict. It lacks the cultural agility to bridge our human divides.

We all need reinvention. Reinvention is an essential human literacy.

Think of it this way: If you cannot reinvent yourself, you risk becoming obsolete. Reinvention, creativity, empathy, cultural agility are unique human attributes that machines do not possess. They equip us to achieve any goal, to fulfill any dream. You have all lived it at Northeastern.

I call this the “Northeastern advantage.”

The world will never stop reinventing technology. So we can never stop reinventing ourselves. Reinvention is a winding road, but it is the straight path to success.

Be the entrepreneur of your future self. Make learning your lifelong pursuit. Reinvent yourselves so that you can reinvent the world. Inequality, injustice, intolerance – use your humanity to cast light on these shadows.

Never forget that our true power is in our human connections.

Class of 2019, congratulations!

Now it is time to deliver my charge.

In your lifelong journey, remember that you have a home wherever you go. It is called the Northeastern family. It will always be here for you, worldwide.

Our honorary degree recipients have changed the world. It’s your turn now.

Our world is beset by challenges. It is complex beyond reckoning, but also beautiful beyond imagination.

Now the world belongs to you. It is in your hands!

Graduates, I salute you!

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