What’s it like to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park? These Northeastern graduates embrace ‘coolest’ moment during commencement

Person singing national anthem in graduation cap and gown
Eva Ullmann, a gigging musician and music industry graduate from the class of 2023, belted out the national anthem at Fenway Park on Sunday during Northeastern University’s commencement. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

This is part of our coverage of Northeastern’s 2023 commencement exercises. For more information, visit our dedicated commencement page.

Eva Ullmann gets nervous before every show, but this Sunday was different. 

The singer and recent Northeastern University graduate had already performed in front of famous faces like John Legend and Blake Shelton on “The Voice,” NBC’s singing competition show. She had also performed in front of audiences not full of celebrities whose job is to literally judge her singing. 

But nothing on “The Voice” could have prepared her for the largest gig of her career: performing the national anthem at Fenway Park to a crowd of 25,000 people during Northeastern’s undergraduate commencement on Sunday.

“When everyone was coming into Fenway, I turned around to wave to my parents and my siblings and everyone, and I was like, ‘It’s not that full,’” Ullmann says. “Then when I got on stage, I was like, ‘No, no, it is.’”

Ullmann says she sometimes has a habit of “blacking out” during her performances, but on Sunday she tried as hard as she could to remain present during her big moment.

So much of that moment is seared in her memory. She remembers being stunned by how loud her voice was during her first Fenway Park sound check. She remembers seeing her name on the screens in the stands and her face on the Jumbotron. She remembers hearing her parents and friends cheering as she walked on stage.

“It was genuinely one of the coolest performing experiences I’ve ever had,” Ullmann says.

Ullmann, who sang the national anthem during the undergraduate ceremony and graduated with a degree in music industry, was not alone on Sunday either. Veena Vyza graduated on Sunday with a degree in data science and business administration and belted out the national anthem during the graduate ceremony on Sunday morning. 

For both singers, their role in Sunday’s commencement added extra weight to an already significant moment.

Vyza already had some experience singing at commencement. She performed with the Nor’easters, an a capella group, at the 2022 ceremonies, but this year was the first time she had performed by herself in front of a crowd of almost 30,000 people.

“It feels so fulfilling, this being my last performance at Northeastern,” Vyza says. “Hopefully I’ll make my parents proud with that.”

Person singing national anthem in graduation cap and gown
Veena Vyza, who graduated during Northeastern’s commencement on Sunday with a degree in data science and business administration, sang the national anthem during the graduate ceremony. Vyza is also a member of the a capella group the Nor’easters, which performed during the commencement finale. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Vyza has been a member of the Nor’easters, who also performed during Sunday’s commencement, since 2020––even before she transferred to Northeastern from Berklee College of Music. Singing with the group has allowed her to perform in cities across the world, from Los Angeles to London, and also helped her form friendships that will last well beyond graduation.

“Honestly, they’ve become some of my best friends over the four years and I’ve learned so much from them,” Vyza says. “I’m so grateful to have sung with them over the past four years. I really feel like my last performance being with them culminates everything.”

In the week leading up to commencement, Vyza rehearsed every day, for three to five hours per day, with the Nor’easters to prepare for the group’s lights out performance during the commencement finale. All the hours and work she put in meant that there was little time to be nervous up until the moment she stepped on stage for her solo performance.

With commencement in the rear view mirror and post-graduation opportunities opening up in Los Angeles, Vyza just hopes her performance can inspire up and coming members of the Nor’easters.

“I just want the people in the Nor’easters that are younger than me to be like, ‘This could be you one day,’” Vyza says. “You have so many opportunities ahead of you, and commencement is one of them but there are so many beyond that.”

For Ullmann, Sunday was a “full circle moment:” Four years earlier, she had performed the national anthem at her high school graduation ceremony. 

“It feels special to me to be able to close the chapter singing,” Ullmann says. “It’s not just me walking and getting my diploma, which is already really awesome.”

“It’s me getting to finish it off doing what I love and doing what I came to Northeastern to do,” she continues. “It’s giving a little part of me and what I do to the end of it all.”

Music has been an integral part of Ullmann’s life since she was just a kid listening to her hand-me-down Walkman and belting out songs a little too loudly in her parents’ car. Now a gigging musician, she’s released two EPs––”Youth” (2019) and “Renaissance” (2022)––and competed on “The Voice,” where she blew away the judges with her rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman.”

She ultimately competed on country singer Shelton’s team and was eliminated in the third round knockout stage of the competition. Regardless of the outcome, she says the professional vocal training and advice she received from industry professionals have made her a better singer and performer. The experience definitely left her feeling more prepared to step on stage at Fenway Park.

Walking through Fenway and seeing pictures of the global superstars that had performed there in the past, Ullmann says she felt the weight of what she had signed up for in the leadup to her spotlight performance. Ullmann she suffers from anxiety and she started to feel more nervous as the moment came closer––but, as usual, all that faded away when she took to the stage.

The daughter of a veteran, Ullmann was conscious not to stray too far from tradition in her performance, while also injecting the song with enough of her “own flair.” Elements of her performance were inspired in part by Whitney Houston’s 1991 Super Bowl rendition of the national anthem.

“It just feels one step closer to all the dreams that I want to accomplish post-college,” Ullmann says of her performance. “I mentioned to my friend that I was singing the national anthem, and my friend was like, ‘Yeah, the first of many Fenway shows.’ I don’t know if that’s going to be true, but that’s a fun thing to think about.”

Ullmann says her first Fenway Park performance was made even better by the support she felt from the Northeastern community both during and after her performance. When she hit a high note toward the end, the crowd went wild with full-body applause, and after she left the stage, as she returned to her seat, her fellow classmates whispered words of praise and encouragement.

“It’s funny because with an experience like that, you feel like it would be so isolating and you’d feel all alone, but I felt really supported because everyone was rooting for me to succeed,” Ullmann says.

The commencement stage and “The Voice” experience behind her, Ullmann is applying for marketing jobs at record labels out in L.A., but she’s not giving up on a future full of more Fenway performances just yet. She doesn’t want to look back in 20 years and regret never giving a career in music a fair shot. 

As she looked out at thousands of graduates, their friends and family and heard the deafening wave of applause on Sunday, Ullmann knew that whatever she does next in life, music will be a part of it.

“From the minute I started music, it’s had this hold on me,” Ullmann says. “It just feels like a life source in a way, almost like there’s music in my blood. It brings me so much joy, it brings me purpose, it’s cathartic.”

“I don’t know if we’re put on this earth for a reason,” Ullmann adds. “I don’t know any of that, but if we were, music is my reason.”

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.mello-klein@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.