In an academic year that’s unlike any before it, some traditions remain: Fall Fest, First Pages, and the President’s Convocation are hallmarks of a new year at Northeastern. And while they looked different this year, the spirit of exploration and the excitement of new beginnings were as bright as ever as Northeastern’s 123rd class entered the university on Tuesday.
“Congratulations, you have chosen to be here, on this campus,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, in a video played live online to thousands of students (and their families) on the Boston campus and around the world.
“You are joining other students who are innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, who are discoverers, and who are pioneers, because you’re recognizing that in this environment, the residential model is still the best model for education,” Aoun said Tuesday. “And that’s why you are here.”
Northeastern’s reopening plan includes rigorous surveillance testing of everyone who lives and works on the Boston campus—whether they show symptoms of COVID-19 or not—and an innovative education model called Hybrid NUflex, which allows students and faculty to opt in or out of in-person learning each week while sharing in a similar classroom experience either way.
Kate Kuznetsova, president of the undergraduate student body, addressed her peers during the convocation ceremony and said she was “very excited for the opportunity to come back to campus and share new experiences and memories with old and new friends.
“During my two years at Northeastern, I always took extra joy in meeting new, future leaders. The campus was always filled with new ideas about how to better our world, and our lives with it,” Kuznetsova said. “I look forward to what we can do together this year.”
Members of the university’s academic leadership team—including the deans of all nine schools and colleges and the library, as well as David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs—also took turns during the online convocation to welcome first-year students to Northeastern.
And, at a time when norms are being challenged around the world, and new ways of thinking are more important than ever, Aoun encouraged students during the virtual convocation to be explorers.
“I’m often asked by many of you, ‘Is it bad to be undeclared?’ and the answer is no,” he said, referring to students who matriculate without committing to a particular field of study. “We are all seeking to understand the world and what we are good at. Being undeclared means that you are open to exploring, and that’s why we don’t use the term ‘undeclared,’ we use the word ‘explorer.’”
A number of Northeastern students shared what they hope to explore in a pre-recorded film that kicked off the virtual event on Tuesday.
“My Northeastern dream is to do research, so I can impact my community in a meaningful way,” said Anushka Biswas.
“My Northeastern dream is to join a community of change-makers and transform the world,” said Dorcas Olatunji.
Their passion and excitement was shared by Bob Jose, dean of cultural and spiritual life, who urged students to get involved in the Northeastern community, even if that involvement would look different this year.
“There’s so much to be gained by actively, safely, and responsibly participating in life here at Northeastern,” Jose said. “While you’re here, you’ll be introduced to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new perspectives.”
The university’s Fall Fest, held online this year, was an opportunity for students to learn about the myriad ways they can dive into life at Northeastern.
A digital Fall Fest experience took students—in the form of Husky avatars traveling through a virtual world designed to look almost like a 8-bit video game—on a tour of the hundreds of student-run clubs and organizations on campus. Along the way, students could stop at a virtual booth and chat live with real students in the groups via Zoom video calls.
“It’s going really well so far, we’ve had about as much engagement as last year when we were in person,” Karizma Kishnani, recruitment co-chair for the Husky Ambassadors, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s definitely been different, but it’s been great to see people face-to-face.”
New students received an early introduction to the university’s renowned experiential learning model with a virtual talk by journalist and author Jose Antonio Vargas, author of Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.
From his home in California, in front of a sign reading “I Am An American W/O Papers,” Vargas recounted his experiences living in the United States without proper documentation.
“I called this country my home for 27 years, and yet, on paper, I am not a part of this country. People like me, undocumented workers, are seen as essential workers,” he said. “I don’t know if you noticed, but at least half of all farmers across the U.S. are undocumented. So we’re considered essential workers, but undocumented people are not considered as essential people.”
Vargas, wearing a gray zippered pullover with a black-and-white Husky logo on the upper left chest, was invited to share his life story as part of the university’s First Pages reading program for undergraduates that looks to cultivate a shared sense of knowledge and purpose among students.
“One of the many attributes describing a Northeastern University education is how we challenge and empower our students to apply experiential learning for the purpose of meaningful social change,” said Ken Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning, before introducing Vargas. “I’m confident that this year’s First Page selection will inspire you to do just that.”
Later in the evening, on a warm night in Boston, hundreds of students gathered to see a drone light show that filled the skies with yellows, blues, reds, whites, and greens.
About 60 of the devices rose slowly from the William E. Carter Playground, climbing high above and circling around in various formations such as a sailboat, a face-mask-wearing smiley face, and a reminder to “#ProtectThePackNU.” Students whipped out their phones to capture the aerial show even as it was being live streamed on Facebook.
“I think it’s a great way to get all the students out here, especially in the current times when you can’t see each other much,” said Trevor MacDonald, a first-year molecular biology major. “It’s a great way to get the community together in tough times.”
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