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A Commencement unlike any other, for a year unlike any before it

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

This weekend, Fenway Park will be full once more with highly accomplished, talented people on the field, and adoring fans cheering them on. But it’s not the Red Sox who will be the main event; it’s Northeastern University’s Class of 2021.

Donned in caps, gowns, and masks, thousands of undergraduate and graduate students will be celebrated over the course of five ceremonies throughout the weekend as friends, family, and loved ones cheer from the stands. 

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey, along with Northeastern provost David Madigan, will welcome students and families to the famed ballpark for a celebration of the many accomplishments of this year’s graduating class—a momentous occasion in any year, but particularly after a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a testament to this unprecedented year, Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will deliver remarks by video to the Class of 2021. She is one of several speakers queued up to address graduates and their loved ones throughout the weekend. 

Among them are Patrick O. Brown, chief executive officer of Impossible Foods; Rich D’Amore and Alan McKim, entrepreneurs and members of the university Board of Trustees; students Nathan Hostert, Neha Jain, Gagan Dep Prabhu, and Muhammad Fitrah Pratama Teng; as well as other university officials.

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, will celebrate the resilience of the university’s graduates, who conducted novel research, gained lifelong experience working on co-op, and made the most of life on campus, all while adapting to an ever-changing global public health crisis.

The university opened in the fall with NUflex, a hybrid learning model that enabled some students to be in class in person while others learned remotely, all at the same time. A robust testing protocol underpinned the entire operation, and soon walking to Cabot Testing Center every few days for a swab just became part of daily life at Northeastern.

“There were so many unexpected and lovely things somehow facilitated by a virtual environment,” said graduating fourth-year student Ciana Cronin.

University officials monitored the situation closely throughout the entire year, and by the spring semester, thousands of students were able to move into housing on campus, eager to safely socialize with friends and attend classes in person.

As the weather turned warmer, and cases of COVID-19 began to dip, signs on campus of Northeastern’s vibrant community—which had moved to virtual spaces online—reappeared. In-person fitness classes returned, sporting events took place, and finally, yes, in-person Commencement ceremonies started taking shape.

Two undergraduate ceremonies, two graduate ceremonies, and one ceremony for graduates of the College of Professional Studies in an outdoor venue will ensure compliance with state and federal public health guidelines to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

And what better setting than Boston’s iconic Fenway Park? The ballpark has seen its fair share of grit, determination, and resilience (as long-suffering Red Sox fans will attest) and is associated with one of the most celebrated comebacks of all time en route to the 2004 Red Sox World Series victory after an 86-year drought.

The Class of 2021 has shown grit, determination, and resilience true to the Northeastern spirit, and now will celebrate with another historic comeback.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu

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