When Richard M. Free­land opened an edi­tion of The Chron­icle of Higher Edu­ca­tion 18 years ago, he saw an adver­tise­ment seeking appli­ca­tions for Northeastern’s pres­i­dency. On that page, he also saw his future.

Free­land imme­di­ately got up and told his wife Elsa that “the best job in Amer­ican higher edu­ca­tion” had become avail­able and he was going to apply—even though he didn’t think he had a shot. The rest is history.

Mean­while, Jack A. Curry and North­eastern Uni­ver­sity have been syn­ony­mous for more than 50 years, ever since he was an under­grad­uate working in the office of Carl Stephens Ell, Northeastern’s second president.

Curry (1989–1996) and Free­land (1996–2006) would both go on to lead North­eastern through sig­nif­i­cant advance­ments that laid the ground­work for the university’s cur­rent and future success.

On Wednesday, North­eastern hon­ored their lead­er­ship and achieve­ments at the annual Aca­d­emic Honors Con­vo­ca­tion, where Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun pre­sented each with the Pres­i­den­tial Medal­lion, the university’s highest honor.

Former Northeastern Presidents John A. Curry (left) and Richard M. Freeland were presented the Presidential Medallion at the Academic Honors Convocation. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Former North­eastern Pres­i­dents John A. Curry (left) and Richard M. Free­land were pre­sented the Pres­i­den­tial Medal­lion at the Aca­d­emic Honors Con­vo­ca­tion. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Prior to the pre­sen­ta­tions, Aoun invited atten­dees who had worked with Curry or Free­land to stand, sig­ni­fying that their legacy remains strong on campus today. This was fol­lowed by a standing ova­tion for both men.

Thank you very much for this honor you bestow on me today by my alma mater,” Curry said. “It means so much to me.”

Both Curry and Free­land thanked Dr. George Matthews, who was the chairman of the Board of Trustees when they were each hired, for his sup­port in their respec­tive candidacies.

When I met with the search com­mittee, I said this is the only job I really truly want,” an emo­tional Free­land said of the pres­i­dency. “And after I got the job I told the fac­ulty that it was a dream come true.”

Bestowing the university’s highest honor upon these two men, Aoun said, cel­e­brates the many impor­tant past achieve­ments that cre­ated immense oppor­tu­ni­ties for the North­eastern com­mu­nity today.

Each of these men made an impact on this uni­ver­sity, and we are all ben­e­fiting from it today,” Aoun told hun­dreds of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff who gath­ered in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room. “Every­thing we do is building on the legacy and the oppor­tu­ni­ties that our pre­de­ces­sors made avail­able to us.”

During his tenure as pres­i­dent, Curry oversaw ambi­tious under­tak­ings on campus, including a new sci­ence and engi­neering research center, state-​​of-​​the-​​art class­room building, and the cre­ation of a campus-​​wide com­puter net­work. He also strength­ened and deep­ened the university’s com­mit­ment to the city of Boston.

Under Freeland’s lead­er­ship, North­eastern focused on achieving excel­lence as a national research uni­ver­sity that is student-​​centered and practice-​​oriented. He empha­sized Northeastern’s lead­er­ship in learning through expe­ri­ence by enhancing the university’s flag­ship coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram and strength­ening links between co-​​op and class­room across many dis­ci­plines. His vision helped grow North­eastern into a selec­tive, res­i­den­tial campus with a more geo­graph­i­cally diverse enroll­ment and an enhanced aca­d­emic stature.

They made my job both easier and more dif­fi­cult,” Aoun said. “It’s easier because without them, we would not be where we are today as a uni­ver­sity. But it is much more dif­fi­cult because it is very chal­lenging to follow in their footsteps.”