Remarks by Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun
111th Under­grad­uate Commencement
May 3, 2013


Good morning! Wel­come to our 111th Com­mence­ment exer­cises. Thank you all for joining us today.

Grad­u­ates, we are awed by your ded­i­ca­tion and amazed by your achieve­ments. Above all, we are excited about the future you will create for yourselves—and for all of us.

Par­ents, friends, and loved ones: this is your day, too. We know how deeply you share in the hap­pi­ness of this occasion—and how your love, advice, and sac­ri­fice have made this day possible.

Grad­u­ates, please rise. Join me in thanking your fam­i­lies and loved ones for the sup­port that has helped you get here today.

Fac­ulty col­leagues, trustees, and uni­ver­sity staff: today, we also cel­e­brate your immea­sur­able con­tri­bu­tions to our uni­ver­sity and to our grad­u­ating class.  This day belongs to you as well.

And to our com­mence­ment speaker and hon­orary degree recip­i­ents: You serve as exem­plars for all of us. We are hon­ored that begin­ning today, all of you will remain mem­bers of the North­eastern family.

While we have much to cel­e­brate, we are joined in the shadow of tragedy. We are feeling a con­flicting mix of emo­tions: joy and pain, tri­umph and loss.

For­tu­nately, we also draw strength from one another.

Like many of you, I first came to Boston as a stu­dent. I arrived here from half a world away.  Although I was a new­comer, Boston made me feel wel­come. I was embraced by room­mates, teachers, and neighbors

I will always remember how people went out of their way to make me feel at home. Many of the friends I made as a stu­dent remain my friends today. The bonds I feel with them—and with this city—are unbreakable.

Eigh­teen days ago, the char­acter of our city was revealed to the rest of the world. It is a char­acter based on four cen­turies of people arriving in search of new begin­nings and a better life. Because Boston is a des­ti­na­tion of hope for so many, it is a city infused with opti­mism and good will.

Later in this cer­e­mony, we will honor the emer­gency respon­ders and mem­bers of law enforce­ment who showed the world the true char­acter of Boston. Right now, I want to acknowl­edge mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity who also rose to the chal­lenge on that fateful day.

They are stu­dents in our Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, and many of them are grad­u­ating today. They were sta­tioned with their advisers at the finish line to pro­vide rou­tine assis­tance to run­ners after the race. But when dis­aster struck, there was nothing rou­tine about their response.

They imme­di­ately put their edu­ca­tion to use and, when con­fronted with the worst, they brought out their best.

Let me ask these stu­dents and advisers to stand. Please join me in rec­og­nizing their bravery and self­less action. You are an inspi­ra­tion to all of us.

As edu­ca­tors, it is our duty to turn extra­or­di­nary events into teach­able moments. There are three lessons I believe we can take from all the first responders—takeaways we can carry with us when we leave here today.


First, they put the needs of others before themselves. 

All of us have seen images of people tearing through the bar­ri­cades to reach those who were wounded. At a time when it would have been under­stand­able to seek shelter, they thought only of those who needed them so urgently.

It’s a mea­sure of the bonds that unite us as a human family that in a moment of chaos and des­per­a­tion, so many people rushed to help their fellow men and women.

It is said that in times of crisis, our true selves are revealed. This crisis revealed the depth and char­acter of those charged with keeping us safe, secure, and healthy.


A second lesson is that the men and women who responded were pre­pared for the unknown and the unex­pected, even when danger lit­er­ally appeared out of nowhere.

Let me share with you an email that Jenn McBride, who is grad­u­ating today, sent to her pro­fessor, Edwin Sala­manca. She wrote:

I never thought that I would use the first aid and stress-​​management prin­ci­ples we learned in [your] class so soon in such a real way.

I know that part of the reason I was able to respond quickly and calmly to help those injured and assist the physi­cians at the scene was because of my recent course. Thank you for the edu­ca­tion and coaching you provided.”

What Jenn told us—and what we heard from many—is that the strong foun­da­tion pro­vided by her edu­ca­tion helped her face the unknown and the unexpected.

We often think of edu­ca­tion as preparing us for a spe­cific path. Yet the most pow­erful aspect of edu­ca­tion is that it pre­pares us for the unknown, even the unimag­in­able.  Edu­ca­tion allows us to meet chal­lenges we haven’t even conceived.

Our stu­dents were not expecting what they saw that day. They were trained to help run­ners recover after a race—yet they found them­selves doing emer­gency triage and making tourni­quets. I have no doubt that their efforts saved lives.

Their deter­mi­na­tion, plus their edu­ca­tion, enabled them to put aside the shock and horror of the tragedy, go beyond them­selves, and tran­scend any limitations.


A third take­away is that even when indi­vid­uals hurt us, the power of com­mu­nity heals us. 

After the attack, I vis­ited sev­eral of our injured stu­dents in local hos­pi­tals. Each one of them was grateful for the emer­gency per­sonnel who per­formed flaw­lessly in the midst of chaos.  But each one also had sto­ries of cit­i­zens who came to their rescue—giving aid and com­fort at crit­ical moments.

This is the face of hope. It is why attempts to destroy the fabric of the human family through vio­lence never suc­ceed. In this case and many others, when the strands of humanity are strained, they ulti­mately are strengthened.

There are count­less lessons that can be taken from the respon­ders and vic­tims of the tragedy. These are three that res­onate with me:

• They taught us to put the needs of others first.

• They showed us how to face the unknown and unexpected.

• They reminded us of the healing power of community.

But these are not just lessons that emerge in a crisis. In many ways, grad­u­ates, your edu­ca­tion helped you learn these lessons.

It has been my honor—and that of my colleagues—to walk with you on your extra­or­di­nary journeys.

Now, as you pre­pare to take the next step in your lives, we can say with con­fi­dence, you are ready to take on the world.

No matter where your indi­vidual path leads, I know you will carry this uni­ver­sity, and this city, for­ever in your hearts.

All of us will remain “North­eastern Together” and “Boston Strong.”


Charge to Graduates

Now, grad­u­ates, it is time to deliver the charge to you.

The hall­mark of being a North­eastern stu­dent is that you are both scholars and doers.

Through your edu­ca­tion and world­wide co-​​op expe­ri­ences, you have gained a global per­spec­tive and an entre­pre­neurial spirit.

You have become deeply in tune with the world.

Now is the moment for you to har­ness these advan­tages and make your most auda­cious dreams a reality.

In their own unique way, our com­mence­ment speaker and hon­orees have done that.

From com­bat­ting global poverty to serving our country with dis­tinc­tion. From enriching the lives of Boston’s youth to pro­tecting Boston’s communities.

Now it is your turn.

This com­mence­ment is the moment when the mantle of lead­er­ship is passed to you.

Here is my charge: Lead the world—and trans­form it, too. Shape your own des­tinies, and re-​​shape the world.

You are no longer in our hands—we are in yours.

Con­grat­u­la­tions! Grad­u­ates, I salute you.