Amid rousing cheers and cer­e­mo­nial flour­ishes, 2,700 mem­bers of Northeastern’s Class of 2009 received their bac­calau­reate degrees in morning exer­cises held at Boston’s TD Ban­knorth Garden on May 1, part of the university’s 107th spring commencement.

The eco­nom­i­cally uncer­tain times awaiting the young grad­u­ates didn’t dampen the spirit of the day. In fact,commencement speaker Ken­neth Cole encour­aged his audi­ence to seize a grand oppor­tu­nity to become “agents of change,” and “rein­vent and transform.”

It’s a myth, said the fashion-​​industry leader and noted social activist, that grad­u­ates “are entering the work­force at the worst time in the last 50 years.” Indeed, Cole said, “it may be the best. Only in tough times do we look to rein­vent and transform.”

Acknowl­edging that the global finan­cial crisis has changed the eco­nomic land­scape, Cole—chairman and chief cre­ative officer of Ken­neth Cole Pro­duc­tions, and a cham­pion of such social causes as AIDS research and the pro­vi­sion of homes, jobs, and ser­vices to the homeless—asserted that the “future is open to those who embrace and lead it.”

Cole, who is also chairman of the board for amfAR, which is ded­i­cated to AIDS aware­ness and pre­ven­tion, advised the young grads to find their own human­i­tarian calling, both for them­selves and, more impor­tant, for their com­mu­ni­ties. “Never before has there been so much broken that needs to be fixed,” he said. ”We all know building our com­mu­ni­ties is the most viable path to building our own lives.… Iden­tify your God-​​given gifts, find a voice and help others find theirs.”

In his remarks, North­eastern pres­i­dent Joseph Aoun said stu­dents should view their degree as their ticket to explore and trans­form the world. “To do this,” he said, “you must con­tinue to learn about our mag­nif­i­cent planet through edu­ca­tion, through travel, through inter­ac­tion with people from other cultures.”

North­eastern stu­dents’ unique edu­ca­tional experiences—which includes co-​​op, study abroad, the Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram, and other over­seas opportunities—give them a unique glimpse into the dynamics of global con­nect­ed­ness that pre­vious gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents have not had, said Aoun.

Today, you earned more than a diploma,” Aoun said. “You hold values and sophis­ti­cated skills that allow you to suc­ceed in the global world. Trea­sure them, and use them with confidence.”

Stu­dent com­mence­ment speaker Brandon Taylor, a bio­med­ical physics major, reminded his class­mates of the “hand­prints” they’ve left on the uni­ver­sity and the uni­ver­sity has left on them, including spe­cific mem­o­ries they will carry from their time at North­eastern, such as the Red Sox win­ning their first World Series since 1918 and Pres­i­dent Aoun’s inauguration—even the more under­stated moments, like making friends with campus food servers.

I don’t really know many of you, and you may not know me,” Taylor said. “But I realize how little this means now. Even if we’ve never met, we still have more in common than we may think. You all helped shape my life, as I have yours.

We have to take these lessons, these things we have learned, these mem­o­ries we’ve made together, and grow with them,” he added.

Taylor echoed Aoun by pointing to Northeastern’s co-​​op pro­gram as the best prepa­ra­tion for the real world. “Today, the real world scares me less,” Taylor said, “because we’ve already been there. With our expe­ri­ence and our pas­sion, we will be the ones to set things into motion.”

A Mount Laurel, N.J., native, Taylor plans to apply to med­ical school and become an emer­gency med­i­cine physi­cian and a member of Doc­tors Without Bor­ders. He’ll get a jump-​​start on that career this summer while working with a team of ortho­pedic sur­geons in Africa to pro­vide free med­ical ser­vices, such as casting and splinting.

Brandon Taylor is a shining example of the ambas­sado­rial roles you assume as an alumnus of North­eastern,” said provost Stephen Director during Taylor’s intro­duc­tion. “The mes­sage Brandon sends to the world is one of lead­er­ship, pas­sion and fear­less­ness. That is the North­eastern way—active cit­i­zenry with a global perspective.”

In addi­tion to Cole, hon­orary degrees were also pre­sented to Molly Cor­bett Broad, the first woman pres­i­dent of the Amer­ican Council on Edu­ca­tion, and Barry Shrage, the pres­i­dent of Com­bined Jewish Philanthropies.

The under­lying sen­ti­ment of the morning was voiced by Cole, who repeated a line he’s become iden­ti­fied with: “It’s great to be known for your shoes, but it’s even better to be known for your soul.”

Later, in an after­noon cer­e­mony held at Matthews Arena, nearly 1,700 stu­dents from the grad­uate schools, the School of Tech­no­log­ical Entre­pre­neur­ship and the Col­lege of Pro­fes­sional Studies received their degrees.

After­noon com­mence­ment speaker Gary Got­tlieb, pres­i­dent of Brigham and Women’s Hos­pital and president-​​elect of Part­ners Health­Care, said that many of the chal­lenges today’s grad­u­ates face mirror the issues his par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion con­fronted in the 1930s: unem­ploy­ment, poverty and homelessness.

Despite these hur­dles, Got­tlieb said, he’s opti­mistic the new crop of grad­u­ates will become our country’s “greatest generation.”

While the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate will try your patience,” he said, “you will hone your skills and help us … rebuild some of the bridges to the world that have eroded.”

At the after­noon exer­cises, the uni­ver­sity pre­sented an hon­orary doc­torate to Got­tlieb, as well as to Angela Menino, first lady of the City of Boston, and J. Keith Motley, Ed’78, MEd’81, chan­cellor of the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts, Boston.