May 2, 2014
Good afternoon! It is my privilege to welcome you to Northeastern’s 112th commencement exercises.
Graduates: this is your moment! We are here to honor your outstanding accomplishments, and to celebrate you.
Parents, families, friends, spouses, and partners: we are witnessing the fulfillment of dreams - the dreams of our graduates, and your dreams for them. We pay tribute to their labors - and to all the labors you have borne to help them.
Graduates, please rise and thank your loved ones for their support and sacrifice.
Trustees, faculty colleagues, and staff: Today we reap the rewards of our work as well. I thank you for all you have done to guide these magnificent students.
And to our honorary degree recipients: You have inspired us by your example. We are honored to welcome you to the Northeastern family.
Graduates, as you know, this year we launched Empower, our campaign to build the Northeastern of tomorrow.
It truly has been a time of empowerment - not just for our university, but for you.
Remember the day you arrived at Northeastern. You carried infinite potential - and today that potential becomes accomplishment. You have grown into the brilliant class of strong, empowered women and men in this arena today.
You did not do it alone. Others have had a hand in empowering you.
I speak from experience.
When I first came to Boston to begin my graduate education, I was like many of you when you arrived here. I was a stranger in a strange land.
Fortunately, at each juncture, there were people - faculty members and friends - who helped me.
Although I was operating in my third language, the lessons they taught me needed no translation.
They taught me that in the American system of higher education - and indeed, in America - hard work and merit trump status and seniority.
You see, my original plan had been to return to France after graduate school, where my wife and children had remained. I wanted to take a faculty position in Paris.
But my time in the U.S. had lifted my eyes to a wider horizon. It made me want more.
So when I faced the question of whether to return to the original plan for my future, my mentors and friends helped me weigh the choice.
When I received offers to stay in this country, one of my professors talked me through my hopes - and especially my worries.
He and others encouraged me to seize opportunities, because they do not last for long. They advised me not to fear risk, because taking risks can lead to great rewards.
In many ways, they were encouraging me to reach for the American Dream.
So I listened. I stepped outside my comfort zone, and onto a plane for Los Angeles, where I took my first faculty position.
I changed countries, continents and cultures - and changed the entire course of my life.
That is the story of my own journey of empowerment. It wouldn’t have happened without the friendship and guidance of the people who helped empower me.
My story is not unique. It is also what you have experienced at Northeastern.
Graduates, let me ask you to close your eyes for a moment. Please do it. I want you to stop and think about the people who have empowered you at Northeastern.
There are many.
For some of you, they are the professors, advisors and peers who helped you deepen long-held interests.
For others, they are mentors and friends who helped you discover talents you weren’t even aware of.
Their words have been sparks, igniting ideas that now burn in your hearts.
Their questions have spurred you to shed old beliefs and discover new passions.
Their careful nurturing has helped you grow into the fullness of yourselves.
Through them, you have become empowered. In turn, you, too, have empowered people.
As a graduating class, you have devoted thousands of hours collectively to the service of others.
You have conducted research that has added to the world’s scholarship and improved lives - like Sujeet Akula, who is recognized as one of the most promising young researchers in theoretical particle physics. Or engineering graduate Ziyao Zhou, who already has published more than twenty articles in respected journals.
You have used your skills for the common good, like Jack Korpob whose work in mentorship and counseling helped other students be engaged in community service.
You have cared for those who cannot care for themselves, like psychology graduate Mollie Ruben, whose research focused on how to ameliorate patients’ physical pain.
Students like you have brought to life the most profound kind of empowerment of all: you have empowered the world.
Class of 2014, you have done so much.
This is the ultimate lesson about our journeys of empowerment: when we empower the world and each other, we ultimately empower ourselves.
As you leave Northeastern and step even more fully into the world, the opportunities to empower others will only grow larger.
Consider the great things left undone: the redemption of our natural environment; the resolution of poverty and injustice; the quest for greater peace in our time.
So much music remains unwritten. So much art remains uncreated. So many mysteries of humanity, nature, and the cosmos remain unsolved.
But one day, they will be solved - because you will solve them.
As you start new enterprises, you will lift humanity a little higher.
Scores of people have empowered you at Northeastern; now, it’s your turn.
Today is the start of the next stage in your empowerment journey. The journey will open in countless directions. Some will be dead ends. Others will rise to the highest summits.
But as long as you remain oriented toward empowering others, the road before you will stretch out into a dazzling horizon.
A few minutes ago, I asked you to call to mind the people who empowered you at Northeastern.
Now, I ask you to imagine the people you will empower with the knowledge and skills you have gained here.
Remember that image. Carry it with you - and make it real. You are envisioning your own destiny.
Now, graduates, it is time to deliver my charge to you.
Our honorary degree recipients are shining examples of the idea that when we empower others, we too become empowered.
From their fledgling steps to the great strides of their careers, they have touched the lives of countless people along the way.
Class of 2014, this is my charge to you. As you continue on your paths to empowerment, remember that this journey is not only about you - it is also about the impact you will make on the world.
As you embark on your journeys, Northeastern will always be a guiding star for you. It will always be your home.
Graduates, I salute you!