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Two birthdays, an anniversary and homecoming: A family affair at convocation 2022

Sebastian Chavez kisses his mother Rita after speaking at Northeastern's class of 2026 President's Convocation, held in Matthews Arena. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

For Sebastian Chávez Da Silva, executive vice president of Northeastern’s Student Government Association, the start of the semester is all about family—his Northeastern family.

That was clearly apparent during Tuesday’s convocation. It was one of the last opportunities for the fourth-year student, majoring in industrial engineering and political science, to address the incoming freshman class. Also in the audience was his mother Rita Da Silva, a 1997 Northeastern graduate from Venezuela, his father Richard Chávez, and his sister Daniella Chávez Da Silva—a second-year student at Northeastern.  

“Today we’re celebrating convocation in nine different locations around the world,” Chávez Da Silva told the incoming class, his family seated among them. “When it comes to being a Husky, we each have our own story to tell.”

And Chávez Da Silva’s story is one of ambition and clear-eyed optimism. He said he wants to work in “humanitarian logistics” to aid international organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross, on potentially life-saving missions. 

Chávez Da Silva was given the opportunity to speak directly to his family in what became a touching highlight from this fall semester’s ceremony.   

“You spoke a lot about experiential learning and we spoke a lot about the bonded family,” Chávez Da Silva said, referencing President Joseph E. Aoun’s earlier comments. “My mother first came here from Venezuela—she is the best case of experiential learning I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Toward the tail-end of the ceremony, Aoun called upon Chávez Da Silva to share a message he had for his family. 

“We invited your family to be with us because we have been told that this is a special day for your family,” Aoun said. 

Special, indeed, because both Chávez Da Silva and his mother have the same birthday—and it happened to fall on Tuesday’s convocation. It was also Chávez Da Silva’s parents’ anniversary. With the help of the entire incoming class, the crowd wished the pair a happy birthday—and Chávez Da Silva’s parents a happy anniversary.

But the story doesn’t end there. For Rita Da Silva, who was moved to tears when her son spoke, the occasion felt like a homecoming of sorts. Rita Da Silva, who lives in Dracut, co-oped with the U.S. Department of Transportation in Cambridge some 25 years ago. She still works there—a testament to the strength of Northeastern’s long-running experiential learning program. 

Rita Da Silva said she had no idea that her family would be honored at the semester kick-off ceremony inside Matthews Arena. “We came because we thought [Sebastian] was going to be speaking, so I didn’t have any expectations,” she said.

President Aoun is hugging the mother of a college student at Northeastern's Convocation.
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Born and raised in Venezuela, Rita Da Silva arrived in the U.S. in 1989 with her mother and sister, determined to assimilate and carve out opportunities for herself.  

“I would just jump into classrooms and try to learn English,” she said. “At the end of it, I said I wanted more than this.” 

So she applied to Northeastern. To her surprise, she was accepted. “It was amazing,” she said. “The clubs—I was in LASO, the Latin American Student Organization.”

In fact, she was part of the class that revamped and rebranded the student organization into what it is today. Ultimately, she graduated from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business

“I was the first one in my family to have a college degree on both sides,” Rita Da Silva said. “I think that’s what pushed me to learn as much as I could, so I could eventually one day have a family—and for them to have much more than I had.”

Chávez Da Silva said he admired the way his mother “took steps outside of her own academic path” to pursue a future for herself and her family. 

Chávez Da Silva is currently co-oping with Entegris, a semiconductor company. 

To feed his interest in political science, he said he’s been involved in research related to global governance, artificial intelligence and the weaponization of AI with Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Denise Garcia

“I’m hoping next fall to be able to co-op in either Geneva or Berlin to work at a nonprofit,” he said.

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