Like grandfather, like grandson—two generations apart, both proud Northeastern grads

Karl Anderson wearing golden graduation robe and black cap
Golden Grad Karl Anderson ’58 returned to see his grandson graduate at Fenway on Sunday, May 7, 2023. Photo by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University

Wearing a golden robe and black cap, Karl Anderson sat proudly in a suite above the field at Fenway Park on Sunday. On the field below, Anderson’s grandson Karlan DeWitt marched in the procession wearing his black gown and mortarboard. 

A man of few words, when asked if it is exciting to see his grandson graduate, Anderson says, “It is.”

“I’m pretty close to my grandpa,” says DeWitt, who graduated with a degree in biochemistry. “So, getting into Northeastern was awesome.”

Knowing that his grandfather graduated so long ago, he says, “I was honored to follow in his legacy. It’s a full circle now.”

DeWitt didn’t get to see his grandfather on Sunday because it was hard to coordinate, with his grandfather up in the Dell Suite and him on the field. But it won’t be long until they see each other again. 

“But I’m really happy he went,” DeWitt says the day after graduation. 

In retrospect, he says, “I was shocked they got the robe on him.”

The two talk about their different eras living on Gainsborough Street, Anderson in the late ’50s and DeWitt 65 years later during his freshman year. Their conversations include the new buildings on campus and how life in Boston has changed through the decades. 

Only a few buildings surrounded the main quad that looked out onto Huntington Avenue back in the late 1950s, and now Anderson barely recognizes the sprawling campus. 

Even though the two couldn’t tour the school Sunday, DeWitt hopes to show his grandfather around the campus soon. 

Anderson graduated with a civil engineering degree in 1958. He continues to be friends with several people he graduated with. 

He also met his spouse, who lived near the campus, while attending Northeastern. She attended the nearby Radcliffe College, now a part of Harvard. 

Attending Northeastern in the 1950s was a lot different than it is today, Anderson says.

“It wasn’t like being on campus,” Anderson says. “Come here to go to school and go home to do homework.” 

He did two co-ops doing land surveys, one for the city of Newton and another for an engineering company. 

Anderson’s graduation was at the Boston Garden. “I remember it was long,” he joked. He had to wait through everyone’s names for a large school even back then. 

After graduation, Anderson served as an engineer in the military to avoid the draft into the Vietnam War. Instead, for two years, he helped survey the ocean floors across the country’s coasts. 

Anderson went on to build a career in engineering. He worked at Boeing, an aircraft industry company and then became a contractor for a builder in Boston before starting his firm developing houses in Plymouth. 

“I did various jobs and built a lot of homes,” Anderson says. 

Anderson also grew his family. He has five children, nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and one more on the way. Dewitt’s grandmother passed away a few years ago. 

DeWitt was born in Albany, New York, and lived there until he was about 8 years old. Every summer, he remembers taking the three-hour drive down to Plymouth to see his grandparents and cousins. The family made the trip at least a few times each summer and stayed for a few days. 

Everyone congregated at the grandparent’s house, DeWitt said. Even his cousins from Ireland would make the trek over. 

“We will all go and hang out at his house,” DeWitt says. “I still go down there on the weekends, down to Plymouth.”

DeWitt’s family moved to Franklin around 2008 to be closer to family. DeWitt still lives there and makes a point to make the trip to see his grandfather a couple of times a month. 

Although his grandfather didn’t urge family members to attend the school, it was still a proud moment when DeWitt was able to tell his grandfather that he was going to his alma mater. 

“When I first learned I was going to Northeastern and telling my grandpa—that was amazing,” DeWitt says. 

Anderson’s reaction might have been a bit subdued, as evidenced by his personality, but “he was very happy for me,” DeWitt says. 
Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.