Northeastern’s 2021 Commencement kicked off Saturday in the historic confines of Fenway Park, where hundreds of students gathered, safely distanced from each other on the field, and parents and guests looked on from the stands.
After a year unlike any other, Northeastern innovated to be able to host in-person Commencement ceremonies unlike any before them, adhering to COVID-19 prevention guidelines in an iconic outdoor Boston venue.
The pitcher’s mound was adorned with the Northeastern N, and the university logo covered home plate. Graduates, their family and friends snapped selfies on the field before being called to take their seats.
“Being physically celebrated, it feels like a better close for my years here,” said Channtel Ravenell, who is graduating in behavioral neuroscience.
She has been taking classes virtually for the past year with her cat, Bro, periodically interrupting to lay across her computer. But now, she was waving to her mother from the field, where were gathering for the first of two undergraduate ceremonies.
Sylvia Dyakova and her son, Dean, took selfies behind home plate. Originally from Bulgaria but living in California since her son was a baby, Sylvia Dyakova said she was filled with immense pride being able to see the crowning moment of her son’s academic achievement.
“Education has always been a priority in our family, so he really worked hard through the years,” she said. “It’s that’s tremendous feeling that every parent has when you see your child accomplish something big.”
Her son is graduating with a degree in computer science, and finance and recently landed a new job as a software engineer at a financial technology company.
The sun had barely risen over Fenway Park on Saturday morning when members of Northeastern’s Class of 2021 began arriving, more than two hours before the beginning of the first ceremony.
Brian Beggan, graduating as chemical engineering major, arrived early because he’s president of the pep band, which is playing both of today’s ceremonies, the culmination of an academic year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resilience of the Northeastern community in confronting it.
“My feeling of walking up the stairs and seeing everything at Fenway just really made it hit all at once,” he said. “Today’s the day it’s really happening. I’m going to walk out of here a college grad.”
With his trombone laid across a few seats, Beggan said he was glad to have an early start so he could take in the meaning of the day before the first ceremony gets underway.
Beggan starts a full-time engineering position with the same company in Massachusetts where he did a previous co-op.
Senior Allison Noble is also playing an instrument in the ceremony. She’s a French horn player in the wind ensemble. Noble, a marine biology major, won’t be straying far from Northeastern when she graduates. She is in the Plus One master’s program. She plans to work before pursuing a doctoral degree.
Now that the big day is here, Noble says she’s glad to have an in-person graduation experience during the pandemic. Some colleges in the Boston area have chosen remote ceremonies.
“I’m really glad that they made a really huge effort to have an in-person ceremony for us, which is really greatly appreciated.”
Hershy Kulkarni and Matt McLaughlin hadn’t seen each other in person in over a year. Kulkarni, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, was entirely remote for the past year, taking virtual classes from Chicago. “It’s good to be back in Boston,” he said, greeting McLaughlin, earning his bachelor’s degree in finance, with eyes smiling over his mask and an elbow bump.
Another reunion of sorts happened as Elif Coskun and Tucker Spencer-Wallace arrived. The pair met during freshman orientation and coordinated their Commencement plans to be able to graduate together, too.
Having spent the entire year taking classes online, Spencer-Wallace, who is graduating with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and a masters in engineering management, says that “being able to celebrate not in our bedrooms and instead in a historic place like Fenway Park [is] proof that we can still be college students in a way.”
Just minutes after Fenway Park staff shouted to each other, “we’re open!” Natalie Hall was in her seat. The behavioral and neuroscience graduate had never been to Fenway before Commencement ceremonies, and she and her father wanted to make sure that their arrival went off without a hitch. Her mother was having a viewing party of the livestream with family members nearby.
“It feels kind of surreal” that the four years are over, she said.
For Danielle Guibord and her father Ron, arriving early at Fenway Park was an opportunity to soak the sights and sounds of a momentous occasion at one of their favorite places. “We’re really big Red Sox fans. We’ve been going to games for a while,” said the psychology graduate. “It’s nice to make more memories here.”
Guilbord is not the first in her family to graduate from Northeastern. Her grandfather completed his degree by taking night classes and wasn’t able to attend his own Commencement ceremonies. “I told him I’m graduating for the both of us,” Guilbord said.