Inspired by her mother, Adwoa Sefah approaches her Commencement speech with empathy

Adwoa Sefah, class of 2022 undergraduate commencement speaker, poses for a portrait.
“It’s been a long four years, but it’s been so fruitful,” Adwoa Sefah says as she looks ahead to her speech at undergraduate Commencement. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

This is part of our coverage of Northeastern’s 2022 Commencement exercises. For more information, including a livestream, photos, and live coverage throughout the day, visit our dedicated Commencement page.

Adwoa Sefah understood four years ago that Northeastern was the place for her.

“This was the only school I toured,” says Sefah, who will be delivering the nighttime student speech at Northeastern’s undergraduate Commencement ceremony May 13 at Fenway Park. “I just knew, like the minute we started—OK, this is the school I want to go to.”

It was a sense that she couldn’t fully articulate. How could she know that the next four years would test her and her classmates in ways beyond the imagination?

“The COVID-19 pandemic taught me to reach out and connect with people because you were cut off from everyone,” says Sefah, who has served as a resident assistant for the past two years. “And then, in my relationships, I’ve learned to be more patient. Before, it was hard for me to understand that everyone has something going on, everyone is struggling; but with COVID you could really see that it affected people very differently. So taking a step back and seeing how everyone’s dealing with it and trying to respond in such a way that sometimes I’ll just sit and listen to people—I’m still growing, I’m still learning.”

Her sense of empathy will be especially valuable when Sefah enters the University of Illinois College of Medicine in the fall. She pursued her undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology at Northeastern with the lifelong dream of becoming a doctor—a pediatric surgeon, perhaps.

“I really like working with children and their parents,” she says. “I also want to research health disparities and access to healthcare because in Ghana I grew up in a medically underserved community—it was my whole reason for becoming a doctor.”

Sefah was 12 when she and her two siblings left Ghana with their single mother, Juliana—Adwoa’s role model to this day.

“I have watched her work her way up from McDonald’s to a licensed practical nurse since we arrived in this country,” says Sefah, whose family settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. “We’ve lived a really hard life, and seeing her achieve her dreams while sacrificing everything she has so her children could also achieve theirs serves as my inspiration towards almost everything I do.

“Not to sound dramatic, but my mom is my world,” Sefah says. “Her stubbornness, perseverance, and love has made me into who I am today. I could write a book about how much I admire her.”

Sefah plans to blend her personal narrative with the lessons of appreciation that she and her generation have learned during the pandemic. In childhood she was taught that her dreams should be big enough to scare her; she has learned the other side of that equation over the past four years. Her senior-year bucket list included a trip to the New England Aquarium, eating matcha ice cream in the Fens, and a visit to Boston Common—which she had ignored until recently, figuring there would always be time tomorrow.  

Her Fenway Park appearance will be another experience. 

“Coming into college, it was always something I joked about, how it would be so nice to be Commencement speaker,” says Sefah, laughing. “I’m really excited to have this opportunity, but also just to be graduating. It’s been a long four years, but it’s been so fruitful. I’m grateful for all the opportunities that this university has given me and all the people I’ve gotten the chance to meet.”

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