Hoods in hand, Northeastern doctoral graduates turn now to solve the world’s biggest problems

“The world needs your minds, your hearts, and, above all else, your humanity,” David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern told the university’s newest PhD graduates at the Doctor of Philosophy Hooding and Graduation Ceremony on Monday. 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.

When Andrew Summerfield walked onto the stage to receive his doctorate, Luca Caracoglia handed him a smartphone. 

The associate professor of civil and environmental engineering was a stand-in for Summerfield’s advisor Andrew Myers, also an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern and associate chair for graduate studies, who had come down with COVID-19 a few days before Northeastern’s Doctor of Philosophy Hooding and Graduation Ceremony. But Caracoglia and Myers coordinated to surprise Summerfield with a video call.

When Summerfield realized his advisor had made it to the ceremony after all, albeit remotely, a wide smile spread across his face and he waved the phone’s screen at his fellow graduates and guests to let them in on the delight.

Civil Engineering doctoral graduate Andrew Summerfield is surprised while being hooded by associate professor Luca Caracoglia, with a video call from his academic advisor Andrew Myers, who could not attend the ceremony in Matthews Arena due to COVID-19. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

The hooding ceremony, which was held in Matthews Arena on Monday, represents the culmination of several years of study for the Class of 2022 in fields ranging from cybersecurity to mechanical engineering to psychology to chemistry, and many more.

David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern, opened the celebration by congratulating the graduates on the “impact you have already made as scholars and as scientists.” He told them, “You have raised the bar of excellence very high indeed. The world needs your deep expertise and your unique capacity to create knowledge that solves problems.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Madigan reiterated this sentiment by charging the newly minted PhDs with finding “new ways to extend your impact.” He said, “The world needs your minds, your hearts, and, above all else, your humanity.”

Andrew S. Plump, president of research and development at Takeda Pharmaceutical Company and the graduation speaker for the event, also spoke of the responsibility of being a member of a “very exclusive group” of people who possess a doctorate degree. 

“With PhD in hand, you are capable of shaping the future of society,” Plump told the graduates, drawing parallels in his speech between the innovations of today with historic breakthroughs that occurred against the backdrop of great worldwide upheaval, conflict, disease, and injustices. He spoke of “what is possible when we pull together as a society, and the differences scholars like you can make… You are our future. As the most educated in our society, each of you, in your own way, will shape our destiny.”

For graduate Mehdi Nasrollahpourmotlaghzanjani, who studied electrical engineering, such societal contributions are a reason to be proud of receiving his doctoral degree. “I spent almost four years of my life working to fix some issues people are facing,” he said while queuing for the procession before the ceremony. Nasrollahpourmotlaghzanjani’s PhD dissertation proposed the creation of several different kinds of devices to address biomedical challenges. For example, one would be implantable in the brain to stimulate neurons to fire, he explained, which could have implications for treating brain diseases. 

Bingyu Wang, who received a doctoral degree in computer science, decided to share the experience with a particular person: His nine-month-old son, Rian. During the ceremony, Rian was snuggled against Bingyu’s chest in a baby carrier—even as his father walked across the stage.

“It’s a special day for me, and I get to share this memory with him,” the new Doctor of Philosophy said. 

Wang wasn’t the only graduate for whom the day was more than just celebrating accomplishments, but also honoring loved ones. 

That was certainly true for the Warner family.

When Kelly Warner stepped onto the stage to receive a doctoral hood, she wasn’t there for herself. Kelly’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Lizzy) Warner, was a PhD candidate in interdisciplinary engineering at Northeastern when she passed away in August 2021. The university posthumously awarded her with a doctorate for her research in resilience engineering and policy, which her mother, Kelly, accepted on her behalf. 

In 2018, Lizzy’s PhD research proposing how to increase the resiliency of cities earned an award from the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Crisis Management Case Challenge. 

“It was her dream to get a PhD,” Kelly said of her daughter, blinking back tears. “When I was sitting [in the ceremony,] I could feel her presence.”

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