Doctoral candidates completed their graduate studies during a period of unprecedented disruption and political polarization—a fact that was front and center during Thursday’s hooding ceremony.
The graduation ceremonies inside Matthews Arena began with doctoral candidates processing side-by-side into the arena wearing the customary academic garb. They were members of the classes of 2019, 2020, and 2021.
David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern, kicked off the morning celebration by congratulating the graduates, who he said now stand at the completion of a “profound intellectual journey, one that advisors and graduates have very much traveled together.”
“Relatively few individuals have the opportunity to discover something new, to create new knowledge, or to produce an original work or scholarship,” he said. “Our graduates have not only had the opportunity to do this, but they have succeeded in this effort and that’s why they are here.”
Madigan also acknowledged the unique challenges that this year’s graduates had to grapple with in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptions.
“I also hope you remember it as a time of excitement and productivity, and I hope you found some time to have some fun while you were,” he said.
Winslow Sergeant, a member of the board of trustees at Northeastern, who served as chief counsel for advocacy in the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy under the Obama administration, also offered remarks, commending the graduates for tackling their studies amid a host of global challenges that have been “unleashed by rapid technological change.”
“You have come across debates in your own academic research on the long-term implications of these disruptions,” Sergeant told the graduates. “You are the generation that completed your degree in the time of COVID-19; you are also the graduating class that has seen unprecedented polarization in our politics.”
For one mother, Sharon Martin, watching her daughter, Camille, walk across the stage was the culmination of nearly five years of hard work in pursuit of a doctoral degree in chemistry.
“I’m feeling very proud of her. She worked very hard,” the elder Martin said. Her daughter’s interest was born from a high school chemistry teacher who inspired her.
Camille Martin is involved in the business side of chemistry with a start-up to market a skin care product that she developed in the lab. She was recently profiled by News@Northeastern.
Not all family members remained in the stands during the ceremony.
Lydia Ruffner, who received a degree in chemistry and chemical biology, walked across the stage with her 4-year-old daughter, Maya, holding her hand.
“She’s been in a lab with me since she was a month old,” Ruffner laughed. “She’s a Northeastern student, too.”
Ruffner is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioengineering, studying in professor Mona Minkara’s lab, and plans to go into the biotech industry next year.
Saoni Mukherjee, who received her doctoral degree in computer engineering, was taking selfies with friends outside Matthews, reveling in the camaraderie with her peers and her boyfriend. But one person was notably missing—her father had died from COVID-19 in their native India.
Charu Kalra, Mukherjee’s friend who also graduated with a computer engineering degree, was supposed to walk across the stage with her doctoral degree in 2020 before the pandemic halted large gatherings. Today’s ceremony “was more like a reunion of friends,” she said.
“A PhD is so challenging that you cannot finish it without the support of your friends and family,” Kalra said.
Kalra plans to spend the rest of the day enjoying Boston before returning to Washington, DC, where she works as an engineer for Apple.
Jack Gronau, on the other hand, won’t be going far. With his new degree in world history, he will return to Northeastern where he teaches subjects such as the world since 1945 and an introduction to public history. For Gronau, whose research focuses on women, gender, and the French Empire, today’s graduation ceremony is the end of a seven-year quest.
“But at the same time it also feels like the beginning of a new journey,” he said.