Northeastern University graduates reflect on their experience and consider their futures at 2019 Commencement

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Not long from now, life will take them in different directions. They’ll go to dental and medical schools, they’ll become doctors, psychologists, teachers, and speech pathologists. But for one last time on Friday at TD Garden, Northeastern’s Class of 2019 gathered together, filled to the brim with nerves, excitement, and anticipation.

Rebecca Leeper, who gave the student address, celebrated the diversity of experience among her peers.

She described a “pivotal moment” in which she and two dozen peers met with the director general of the United Nations. That group, Leeper said, came from 27 countries, was fluent in 14 languages, and represented more than 20 academic disciplines.

“I’ll never forget the director general smiled at us and said, ‘You can change the state of the world.’ And in that moment,” Leeper said, “I decided I would. But I also knew the only way I could was with a network of people from all over the world who were unafraid and boldly collaborating for change.”

Other graduates reflected on their diverse experiences and shared their plans. With her psychology degree, Gabriela Salazar has her sights set on Geneva, Switzerland, where she plans to work as a primary school teacher.

“I’m glad it’s over, but it was a good five years,” she said, clutching a Guatemala flag, representing her home country. “It’s bittersweet. I’m sad to be leaving but excited about what’s next.”

Nicolas Wolnick isn’t Irish, but a study abroad program at the University College Dublin had made enough of an impression to compel him to bear the country’s flag. Soon he will head back home to Bend, Oregon, to pursue a medical degree.

Reflecting on his four years as a Husky, he said he couldn’t believe the day had come.

“I feel a sense of contentment, pride,” he said. “I’ve learned so much about how to be an adult. I really feel more like an actual deserving member of society. I feel like I’ve finally made it.”

Before the ceremony began, the Nor’easters a cappella group warmed up as a stream of graduates steadily poured into the arena, many of them waving the flags of more than 140 countries. Ties were adjusted and straightened, selfies were snapped, and proud mothers wielding bouquets of roses searched for seats with the best view.

Standing in line waiting for the formal procession onto the floor of TD Garden, a fidgeting Kevin Martinis of Bellingham, Massachusetts, said he was so nervous, he was sweating. It was the culmination of five years of hard work for the behavioral neuroscience student who was heading to physical therapy school.

“I’m really excited to move on but not excited to be leaving Northeastern,” he said, his eyes sweeping over the crowd for his friends.

In the stands, his parents, grandparents, and girlfriend made their way into their seats. They’d share a meal before gathering for a bigger celebration back in Bellingham this evening.

“It just makes you realize that life goes by so quickly,” Lucia Pesce mused from the stands as she waited for her husband, Dan, and her sisters to arrive. The Pesces arrived from Manhattan on Thursday to see their daughter, Zoe Pesce, graduate with her business and finance degree.

Lucia Pesce said she hoped that the graduates would remember that the relationships they build with people is one of the most important things in life.

“It’s just a wonderful day for all these young people who are graduating,” she said, gazing at the smiling graduates milling around. “It’s beautiful.”

Audrey Brigham said Friday is a milestone, not an end. She’s heading off to the University of Connecticut this fall to start a dental medicine program after receiving her health sciences degree at Northeastern.

Friday was also a day for celebrating with her parents, aunt, and uncle. She said she couldn’t wait to get home to Westminster and see her dog. Academics aside, she said she was proud of her club field hockey team and reminisced about the team’s success over the past four years.

For Cassandra Baker, bedecked in a bright blue dress and waiting for her husband and younger daughter to arrive, it was a quiet moment of epiphany. Her daughter, Janae Baker, was one step closer to becoming a pharmacist.

“It just kind of feels like this is a big movement to adulthood,” she said, wistfulness in her voice. “She’s no longer my baby.”

And then gathering herself, she added, “but I think she’s prepared for anything that life sends her way.”

And this, she was confident about. Janae, her mother said, always planned ahead. She had set her mind on becoming a pharmacist in high school.

“She made a plan for how to get there, and she’s almost there,” Baker said.

Molly Callahan contributed to this report. For media inquiries, please contact