“Finally,” thought Pranav Moghe, one of the first graduates in line on Saturday morning to pick up his cap and gown near Matthews Arena. He and thousands of others in the Class of 2020 were just hours away from the Commencement ceremony that eluded them last year, during the initial months of the pandemic.
“I have waited a long time for this day,” the industrial engineering major said of the 18-month wait. He stood next to his father, who had traveled from their home in Mumbai, India, to be in Boston for the celebration. “This is his moment,” the elder Moghe said.
He had been separated from his Boston-based son because of international pandemic travel lockdowns that the United States recently lifted for travelers from India and scores of other countries—a change that allowed many parents to come from overseas to be on hand for the graduation ceremony.
There were similar sentiments of joy, optimism, pride, and relief among the families and graduates who waited outside the arena to be let in. Meanwhile, on the inside, workers were busy getting everything ready for the first of two ceremonies.
Caterers, electricians, sound crew members, and security guards scurried about. Volunteers placed programs and bottled water near seats while florists arranged ferns and potted plants about the stage.
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted the weather any better―the city was awash in sunshine, a stark difference from the lashing winds and sideways rain that fell the evening before, drenching graduates who attended a Friday evening get-together at the arena.
Some people spent the time taking selfies in front of a backdrop of red and silver disco balls. Others spiffed up their mortarboards with glitter while snacking on cookies decorated with “2020”.
Being back on campus brought back good memories for Kyle Rossini, who worked in consulting for a year in Boston after obtaining a business and political science degree. He now works at a fashion company in New York.
“It’s definitely very sentimental” to return to his alma mater. “I’m interested to see what’s changed on campus and what has stayed the same since I left,” Rossini said.
As busy as his life is, he felt it was important to come back for a very special reason.
“It all goes back to closure,” he said. “It’s nice to just have a little piece of that nugget of satisfaction.”
His mother recalled the chaos of the early days of the pandemic and how badly she felt that her son didn’t get a chance to say proper goodbyes to friends and professors. “He left so abruptly and nothing really was finalized,” the elder Rossini said. “It was sad to see it all end like that.”
Still, postponing Commencement was the right decision, they said. “Northeastern did an amazing job trying to keep everyone safe,” Kyle Rossini said.
Graduates returned to campus from nearly all 50 U.S. states and more than 40 countries.
Shahira El-Heneidy and her husband traveled from Cairo, Egypt, to cheer on their daughter, Nadine El-Bawab, a journalism major who now works at CNBC. Their child did a couple of co-ops and quickly landed a job in her field after graduating. “I am so happy with the whole Northeastern experience,” El-Heneidy said.
Dora Ho, who completed her undergraduate studies in December 2019, had been looking forward to walking the Commencement stage the following May. Waiting almost two years for that chance hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm, or her mother’s. Her mom traveled all the way from Taiwan to be in Matthews Arena.
The younger Ho was glad to visit familiar surroundings again―the food court and the tutoring center in Curry Student Center―before she returned to New Jersey for a job as a product manager.
Jared Shepperd, who has a degree in cultural anthropology and sociology, came from Houston, Texas, with his parents. His father, David, was especially proud to sit in the stands at Matthews because no one on his side of the family completed college, though family members on his wife’s side have.
Jared’s sister obtained a college degree two years ago, the elder Shepperd said. Pointing to his son, he added: “He’ll be the first male Shepperd to graduate from college. I wasn’t going to miss this for anything.”
With the morning ceremony wrapping up around midday, hungry families flocked to Centennial Common, where Commencement speaker and celebrity chef Ming Tsai stood in front of his food truck. Volunteers in lime green hoodies handed out free MingsBings―veggie-filled patties. People noshed on benches while graduates took selfies in front of a big “2020” sign nearby.
Generally, a portion of the profits from the veggie burgers benefits two charities important to Tsai: the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Family Reach. Tsai chairs the National Advisory Board for the latter, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide financial relief and support to families fighting cancer. In the 10 years he’s worked with Family Reach, Tsai has raised more than $10 million for the organization.
Tsai said keynoting Northeastern’s ceremony was an “awesome” experience and that he found the audience receptive to his message of finding purpose in life beyond the trappings of fame and a big paycheck.
“Money and toys, that’s not success,” he told News@Northeastern. “Success is how you left the world a better place, and the only way of doing that is through kindness.”
The father of two college-age boys said instilling the kindness message helped his sons get through the pandemic’s toughest times.
“They realize that even at their young age that they have it much better off than most, which is what I wanted to get across today.”