With ‘20/20 vision,’ Northeastern’s Class of 2020 celebrates graduation and looks to the future

Graduates look up at streamers and brightly colored flags overhead
Northeastern University celebrated its undergraduate and graduate 2020 Commencement ceremonies at Matthews Arena on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Speakers included Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, Ming Tsai, a James Beard Award-winning chef, as well as student speakers. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Triumphant graduates from Northeastern’s Class of 2020 celebrated their long-awaited Commencement exercises Saturday with spirited ceremonies honoring their accomplishments, 18 months after the pandemic brought a premature end to their final semester. 

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, said the graduates gathered Saturday in Matthews Arena were “a class like no other.”

A man in academic regalia smiles and claps

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun welcomed graduates to the Commencement ceremonies. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Every graduating class—like every graduate—is tested. But your class faced the ultimate test: A global cataclysm that literally cut your final semester short. The scale and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, yet you persevered. You overcame every challenge, every hardship,” said Aoun. “Class of 2020, I am in awe of what you have achieved.”

More than 2,500 graduates—returning to campus from 45 states and more than 40 countries—were feted at the Commencement exercises punctuated by balloons and streamers. The vaccinated graduates wore masks in accordance with local, state, and federal guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Casting his mind back to the early days of the Spring 2020 semester, Aoun recalled his shock and disappointment as he learned he might have to cut classes short and cancel Commencement due to the new, fast-spreading, and deadly virus. He recalled the students’ rapid scramble to return home to loved ones, even abandoning personal items like computers and jewelry.

“All of you left something even more precious behind: a piece of yourselves. The piece of you that worked so hard, and built so much, as part of this university community” said Aoun. “Today you’re here to collect that missing piece of your college experience—and that missing piece of yourselves—by reuniting for a long-delayed celebration.”

In ceremonies filled with cheers from parents and loved ones, Class of 2020 graduates heard their names read aloud as they made the much-anticipated walk across the Matthews Arena stage, grabbing a photo in between performances by Northeastern’s a capella group the Nor’easters and dancers from Kinematix. 

Jenna Capuzzo, who graduated with a degree in health science, said Saturday’s ceremony was worth the wait.

“I’m thrilled about it. It’s been a long time coming and I’m getting super emotional after seeing a bunch of my peers for the first time in over a year,” said Capuzzo.

“It’s really special to have this moment, to be able to share it with my friends and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments,” she said.

Award-winning chef, author, and entrepreneur Ming Tsai tapped into his mastery of culinary delights to highlight the satisfaction that comes with patience and perseverance exhibited by the Class of 2020.

A man in academic regalia raises his hands in celebration

In his speech, Chef Ming Tsai urged graduates to be kind to everyone, every day. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Isn’t the feeling of the first bite, when you’re hungry, of something scrumptious, the contrasting textures, the creaminess, the temperature difference, the deep lingering umami flavor, so much better than the last bite, as satiation sets in?” said Tsai, who urged graduates to remain hungry throughout their lives, to find their inner passion, and to cultivate relationships as they maneuver through their careers.

“We all have the opportunity to keep spreading kindness,” said Tsai, who noted that World Kindness Day also falls on Nov. 13. He asked graduates to sign a kindness pledge, holding them up as he snapped a selfie with the crowd.

“I have been saying since the pandemic started that as long as the kindness curve remains steeper than the COVID-19 curve, we got this,” said Tsai.

Student speaker Ulpiano Flores Kuri, who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, congratulated his fellow classmates for their success despite the many challenges they’ve faced.

“I want to encourage you to feel proud that we were able to overcome difficulties and get back up. Every failure was a learning opportunity that enabled us to grow and build a stronger character,” said Flores Kuri, who spoke during the morning Commencement ceremony.

The Class of 2020 graduates have progressed and evolved in the 18 months since the tumult of their final semester, said student speaker Kritika Singh.

“I am sure I am not the only one here who is in a completely different place now than when we were all supposed to be in these spots,” said Singh, who rewrote much of the speech she had originally planned to deliver. Singh, who spoke during the afternoon ceremony, wanted to include her thoughts about being a Northeastern graduate in the professional world.

“As we are aware, now more than ever, we face an ever-changing and evolving world,” said Singh, who was named a 2020 Rhodes Scholar.

“In this new age of emerging diseases and technologies, our key assets are our adaptability, humanity, and leveraging of our global interdisciplinary community,” Singh said.

Near the end of the ceremony, President Aoun told the graduates that 2020 is a fitting number, and asked them to make use of the vision, clarity, and focus that comes with 20/20 eyesight.

“What this experience has given you, perhaps more than any other, is vision, clarity and focus. With 20/20 vision you will recognize the challenges ahead, wherever they arise. With 20/20 clarity you will create solutions leveraging all of your experiences, fueling the innovation that can help humankind achieve the impossible,” said Aoun. ”With 20/20 focus, you approach the world’s problems through the human lense of compassion, empathy, and inclusion and you will guide the world to a dazzling future.”

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