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What does it take to pull off a Fenway Park commencement? At Northeastern, ‘the entire university.’

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The two Commencement ceremonies last Friday at historic Fenway Park—one for graduate students in the morning, the other for undergraduates at dusk—were more than two-hour events. For Northeastern staff and volunteers, Commencement is a yearlong exercise.

After the 10 a.m. ceremony, everything seemed to go still. The graduates filtered out and met up with their guests to go their separate ways. The sun shined down over the diamond, and Fenway Park personnel came out with hoses to water the grass.

Behind the scenes, however, Northeastern crews were hard at work to create another experience for the undergraduate ceremony a little more than five hours later. It was all hands on deck to make the 2022 Commencement a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Bob Middendorf, the university’s director of transportation (and 1988 Northeastern graduate) was contributing to Commencement for the 33rd time. Northeastern Transportation is one of the logistical bulwarks needed to bring the event off.

Among other things, Middendorf’s crew was responsible for setting up the stage and chairs on the president’s party platform, as well as shuttling people to and from campus.

“A nice sunny day always helps,” he said.

band members playing the trumpet outside

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

And it was sunny in Fenway on Friday. The Pep Band played from the bleachers looking down over right field as students processed into and out of the ballpark, and as their guests found their seats.

Julie Norton, director of academic ceremonies at Northeastern, praised the more than 140 volunteers who worked tirelessly to support those graduating and their guests. Some arrived at 5:30 a.m. and did not leave until well past 7 that night.

Additionally came “the Cadre,” a group of faculty representatives from each college who guided the graduates to their seats from the staging areas.

“In the morning,” Norton explained, “we had about 2,600 graduates for the graduate ceremony.”

That number nearly doubled to 4,000 in the afternoon.

“Kudos to them,” Norton said of the faculty. “Most people don’t really know how those students got onto the field. They just saw faculty with sticks walking around.”

While Middendorf has had 33 years to work out the kinks, it was new to Norton and Leila Eid, executive director for creative experiences and digital engagement (who also oversees advancement events and academic ceremonies). In previous years it was handled by the registrar.

“And when we say ‘all of this,’ we really mean pretty much every detail was new,” Eid said.

Their first hurdle was a separate Commencement entirely, one held for the class of 2020, who had their ceremony delayed until the fall of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only after that event was under wraps could they start planning for the 2022 Commencement.

But their hard work paid off, including a last-minute idea that made a splash through the stands: a “card stunt,” in which members of the audience held up colored cards to spell out “CONGRATS NU 2022.”

overhead view of fenway park at commencement 2022
Photo by Billie Weiss/Northeastern University

“Julie and I were standing toward the back of the graduates,” Eid said, “and we grabbed each other and started jumping up and down and screaming because we just couldn’t believe it.”

The spectacular view from the field showed over 20,000 attendees working together to show their love and appreciation for their students.

During the finale, student performers from across the university took to the field. The Nor’easters a cappella group started with the Northeastern alma mater before transitioning to an original song about life at Northeastern.

While the Nor’easters rocked out, the Kinematix hip-hop dance troupe showed off their moves and Pitch Please, another Northeastern a cappella group, took to the Green Monster above left field.

The combined performances made for a killer showstopper.

In the undergraduate ceremony, the festivities came to a roaring end with pyrotechnics above home plate.

It was extra special for Norton, who’s been at Northeastern for 25 years and had a daughter graduating in the ceremony.

“It was just what I had imagined it would be,” she said. “As far as commencements that are going to have lasting effects, I think this is a big one.”

Organizing an event like a Fenway Park commencement “is such a huge undertaking that it really takes the entire university community,” said Chelsea Kryspin, assistant director of academic ceremonies. “The transportation team, facilities, our volunteers, the platform party, the vice presidents, the board of trustees, the students, the student leaders, the musical groups, everybody.”

members of northeasterns dance team jumping in the air

Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Without each and every team involved in the 2022 Commencement–which includes many more not profiled here–it’s hard to imagine an event as successful as this one. It was the largest general admittance (which means, simply, no assigned seating) event to ever take place at Fenway Park. At last year’s Commencement, which also took place at Fenway, only 1,500 guests attended due to COVID restrictions.

“Everything I inherited, in the scripts and the set up, was [intended to be] six feet apart,” Norton said. At this year’s undergraduate event, there were over 24,100 guests, and over 4,000 graduates.

When asked when they’ll start planning for Commencement 2023, Norton says, “I already have great thoughts on that.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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