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.