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From friendships to co-ops and bedazzled boots, Rebecca Bamidele urges graduates to cherish their ‘Northeastern resumes’

In a joyous address, the undergraduate student speaker celebrated the moments that defined her Northeastern story and told of her transformation from a shy 18-year-old into a confident future doctor.

Student speaker Rebecca Bamidele addresses the crowd at Fenway Park during Northeastern’s 2024 undergraduate commencement. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

This is part of our coverage of Northeastern University’s 2024 commencement.

After her introduction from Northeastern Chancellor Ken Henderson, Rebecca Bamidele, the university’s undergraduate student commencement speaker, strode up to the dais to a roar of sustained approval from the floor seats at Fenway Park. 

After a few waves of applause, the biology and political science graduate, whose closest friends call her “Reebs,” took a deep breath, smiled and encouraged her fellow graduates to savor the moment. 

“We are gathered here today to celebrate the accomplishments of the past four years,” she said. “For better or for worse, for co-op salaries richer or for poorer, in Cabot COVID testing sickness and in health, we took Northeastern to be ours. And even in the face of obstacles, each of our paths have led us here.” 

Her remarks focused on the tapestry of experiences that dotted those paths — especially those that wouldn’t make it onto a typical CV.  

“While we’ve all reaped the benefits of co-op and internships, a Northeastern education means so much more than collecting LinkedIn credentials,” she said.

“A Northeastern education is figuring out how to clock out of co-op at 5 and still make the Green Line to Beanpot by 5:30, perfecting the true meaning of ‘work-life balance,’” she continued. “A Northeastern education is learning how to stay in step with your best friend when they’re eight hours ahead of you on a global experience … equipping our bonds to overcome any distance. 

“A Northeastern education is late nights in Snell turned to early mornings in Steast, long walks up the Hill and short sprints down, Wolly’s runs and Jefe’s hauls and everything in between.”

Bamidele came to Northeastern unsure of herself, both academically and personally. A high school student from Concord, New Hampshire, with a wide range of interests — she was senior class president, active in music and theater, and a standout in her chemistry and Latin classes — she arrived on the Boston campus and “struggled,” she admitted to the Fenway crowd. 

Adrift in a sea of about 17,000 undergraduates, Bamidele was so worried about making a mark at the university that she didn’t realize how campus, in and out of the classroom, was making a mark on her. 

“Somewhere along the way, Northeastern was shaping me,” she said. “Northeastern helped turn me from a shy, quiet 18-year-old doing her best to blend in to someone who walks around Boston in bedazzled knee-high boots on a Tuesday just for the sake of turning heads.”  

To wild applause, she strode from the podium and did a turn, showing off a white, rhinestone-studded dress under her graduation robe and a pair of sparkly, blue-ombre boots with chunky heels that were visible from the back of the ballpark.

Northeastern, she continued, “exposed me to issues that sparked my soul, transforming me from an uncertain engineer fighting through physics into a future doctor passionate about increasing health equity and addressing maternal mortality for women of color.It turned me from an unwilling participant to an enthusiastic contributor, from a fly on the wall to the first in every dance circle, and from Rebecca to Reebs.”

Bamidele encouraged her fellow graduates to think about the friendships, life lessons, and cherished corners of campus that make up their own “Northeastern resumes.” 

“I want to hear about more than your internships and positions,” she said.  “I want to hear about the club that you gave hundreds of hours of your life to … the stories of how you met your favorite people in the world, whether it was sophomore spring or two months ago. I want to hear about your highest highs and your lowest lows … the things you can laugh about now even if they once made you cry for days. … These are the moments that can never be captured on a diploma or CV.”

Still, Bamidele gave ample credit to the way academics shaped her life at Northeastern, starting during the COVID-19 lockdown that cut short her and the rest of the class’s freshman year on campus. 

“While at home in lockdown after an abrupt end to my freshman year, I took an elective called moral and social problems in health care,” she told the crowd. “Set against the pandemic and the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, I suddenly found my education deeply intertwined with the world around me.”

She remembered “the first time the words burned themselves into my brain: Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth. The more I learned about the dehumanization that so many women experienced during what should be one of their happiest moments, I felt something shift within me. Armed with two powerful tools — a cause I was passionate about, and the privilege of an education — I knew then that there was no looking back.”

Bamidele then encouraged her fellow graduates to look ahead. Along with the reminisces, she noted, the very word “commencement” signals “a dawn.”

“Today, our individual adventures begin,” she said in closing. “As you emerge from this college chrysalis, let these experiences continue to shape you. Continue to acquire new shoes — I mean new skills — to add to this resume.” 

She ended with a lyric from one of her mother’s favorite songs, a graduation anthem from a quarter-century ago. “If you get the choice to sit it out, or dance, I hope you dance. Congratulations, Class of 2024!”