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Graduating senior in her cap and gown.

The Class of 2021, having walked the walk, gears up for Commencement

Graduating seniors take part in a processional walk on the Boston campus. Some of the seniors decorated their caps. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Waving a red felt triangular Northeastern pennant and yelling, “Let’s give it up for our graduating seniors,” 2013 Northeastern graduate Shams Ahmed proceeded to lead the class of 2021 in the first of Senior Week’s daily processional walks around the Boston campus.

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The pep band then launched into a foot-tapping rendition of “Ease on Down the Road,” the song made famous in the 1970s Broadway musical, The Wiz.

Monday’s processional and those that will follow through this week represent a figurative stroll down memory lane for many of the seniors who are off to far flung corners of the world to either begin professional careers or move on to graduate studies.

Top left: a student enters a decorated tunnel on Centennial Common to view images on video screens. Top right: an octet of violins and cellos plays at Krentzman Quad while Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, looks on. Bottom left: Students stroll past Krentzman Quad while an octet plays. Bottom right, seniors were greeted by smiling wooden cutouts of College of Engineering faculty. Photos by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Reminders of the pandemic that turned their last year topsy-turvy weren’t far, as many wore masks despite the lifting of outdoor on-campus restrictions on Friday.

“They did a marvelous job in a very difficult context,” Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, told News@Northeastern. “They showed resilience, they showed courage, they showed initiative, and now we are in their hands.” He stopped for selfies with students along the way .

Decked out in black caps and gowns and colored cords draped around their necks signifying academic achievement, graduates-to-be began the procession near the Visitor’s Center in West Village before walking across Centennial Common where they passed through a series of video screens displaying photo highlights from 2021.

Left: a senior adjusts her cap while waiting for her name to be called in Matthews Arena. Right: Fiona Howard and her service dog, Elvis, pose for a photo on the stage of Matthews Arena. Howard is a psychology major. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

An image of the women’s ice hockey team, which made a historic run during the 2021 National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Championship tournament, flashed on one of the screens while “Rain on Me,” the hit pop song by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, blasted from speakers.

Near the Ruggles train station, a Senior Week volunteer held aloft an iPad that made a large mural by the subway entrance look as if it were moving, part of the procession’s interactive experience. Students were encouraged to download the augmented reality QR code on their phones for the full effect.

The procession moved east by following directional arrows on the ground. Students strolled past the College of Engineering, where they were greeted by smiling wooden cutouts of Dean Gregory Abowd and other faculty members. A jumbo “Wonder Wall” video screen by Snell Library flashed inspirational messages. “We did it!,” read one digital note.

Seniors visit some of the interactive displays along a route on the Boston campus that started at West Village and concluded at Matthews Arena. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Then it was on to Snell Quad where seniors were greeted with rattling red cow bells and cheers of “Congratulations” by volunteers.

Parting words of wisdom from faculty appeared on another video screen. “Be entrepreneurial,” advised John Wihbey, an assistant professor of journalism. “Eat a vegetable every once in a while,” said Brandon Sichling, an assistant teaching professor who focuses on social justice and gender politics.

Then it was selfie time at Krentzman Quad as seniors posed in front of a massive “2021” sign on the lawn. A string octet of violins and cellos played another Grande hit, “Thank U, Next.”

Planning for Senior Week festivities began in January with students’ input, according to organizers. For the processional portion, about 15 stations are dotted around campus to give departing seniors an interactive send-off. Processions continue throughout the week. Registration is required.

“It was awesome, we couldn’t stop taking videos and pictures,” said Gianna Buttitta, who walked the route with her friends, Magenta Lopez and Rebecca Holtz. Buttitta studied nursing, while Lopez and Holtz studied finance.

Left: a senior takes a photo of the digital wonder wall near Snell Library. Right: a soon-to-be graduate has his photo taken in Matthews Arena. Photos by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Other students used the outing to reflect on their experiences at the university. 

“I really loved my time here,” said Fiona Howard, a psychology major who is going to work at Boston’s Children’s Hospital before applying to medical school. Howard said she came to Northeastern from the United Kingdom for the education and the co-op program. She wore a yellow cord around her neck, signifying magna cum laude academic distinction.

At her feet lay Elvis, a black and white great Dane who wore a vest with patches that read “Service Animal. Do Not Pet.”

Arjun Chintalapati, who studies finance, came from India to experience the co-op program as well, and to broaden his exposure to the world. “Boston is at the center of finance and science, which is what I’ve studied at Northeastern,” he said as he participated in the processional. 

Chintalapati is headed to Chicago for a corporate strategy role with the multinational consulting firm Ernst & Young, now known as EY. His brother is flying in from Chicago to join him at Commencement this weekend at Fenway Park. “My parents wanted to fly in from India but due to the pandemic they couldn’t,” he said.

Northeastern’s global presence was felt along the processional route. Students walked under a structure by East Village from which hung flags of the world. And a big red and white backdrop greeted students by Matthews Arena with “Congratulations” in English, Swedish (“Grattis”), Indonesian (“Selamat”), Portuguese (“Parabens”), and Spanish (“Felicidades”).

Inside the sports arena, seniors’ names were called out as they strode across a stage. The soon-to-be graduates stopped mid-way to have their photos taken while holding empty degree holders with the Northeastern seal in gold. Actual degrees will be mailed later. Volunteers in masks and gloves wiped down holders with disinfectant before they were distributed.

Hearing their names called out meant a lot to Holtz, the finance major. “It felt great to be able to walk across the stage, even if we can’t do it at Fenway,” she said. “I felt proud.”

She had mixed feelings about her last year at Northeastern. “It’s been tough being away from school for so long during the pandemic, but it’s been really great to come back and see all my friends, get to reconnect with my classmates, and try to make the most of this year.”

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