For several Northeastern University nursing majors who graduated Friday, the final test came not from classroom study but through hands-on experience treating victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Kelly Ennis, 22, of Concord, N.H., was working in the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital when the trauma alarms sounded and an announcement said bombs had been detonated at the Marathon finish line. The staff rushed into action, going from expecting dozens of dehydrated runners to preparing for severely maimed patients.
“We just had to remain calm and work as a team and really communicate . . . act calm in the face of chaos,” Ennis said after Friday’s commencement at TD Garden, where the lingering memory of the bombings tempered the customary pomp and circumstance. “The patients needed us, and we couldn’t think about what was going on outside our walls. We focused on the patients coming in.”
Ennis was one of dozens of first responders and law enforcement officials, including Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis and Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau who were recognized during the school’s 111th commencement, The event kicked off the region’s robust month-long graduation season.
Northeastern president Joseph Aoun called a dozen first responders to the stage and asked Ennis and other students who cared for the injured on Marathon Monday to stand. The crowd erupted in sustained applause.
“While we have much to celebrate, we are joined in the shadow of tragedy,” Aoun told the sea of 3,200 graduates and their families and friends. “We are feeling a conflicting mix of emotions: joy and pain, triumph and loss. Fortunately, we also draw strength from one another.’’
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who delivered the commencement address, encouraged students to use the skills they developed to successfully face a future that is uncertain and full of possibilities.
“By graduating today, you’ve shown the entire world that you have more than enough IQ points to achieve anything you want,” said Kim, who previously served as president of Dartmouth College. “Willpower, discipline, and focus, the essential qualities for success that everyone needs, are in your hands to develop and build.”
Kim is the first public health expert to lead the World Bank, a multinational organization that works to eradicate poverty.
He challenged students to set bold goals, build their willpower, and use their time well.
“Don’t fear that uncertainty. Embrace it; use it,” he said. “Uncertainty means that nothing is predetermined. Uncertainty means that the future is yours to shape with the force of your will, the force of your intellect, and the force of your compassion. Uncertainty is freedom. Take that freedom.”
Northeastern presented every person in attendance a blue and yellow bracelet inscribed with Boston Strong and #NU2013 written on it.
The event was marked by heightened security, including metal-detection checks at all entrances, a reminder of the higher state of alert at public events following the April 15 attacks.
Davis accepted an honorary doctorate in public service on behalf of the first responders and law enforcement officials who sprang into action after the bombings. To roaring applause and a standing ovation, first responders were welcomed onto the stage as Governor Deval Patrick presented the honorary degree to Davis.
Addressing the “exemplars of courage, compassionate professionals, protectors of the common good,” Patrick said: “During the traumatic attack on our city and in the hours and days that followed, you ran toward danger to care for the injured, comfort the bereaved, and keep our citizens safe from further harm without regard for your personal safety.”
Speaking to reporters afterward, Davis said the honor brought back a lot of emotions, including on “the great work of the first responders, especially the college students who really stepped up and helped out — they saved lives, there’s no question.”
Ennis, for one, helped evaluate patients and apply tourniquets at the Brigham. The first patient she treated, she said, was an injured 3-year-old who was crying and pleading to see his parents.
“It was something that I hope to never experience again in my life, but it prepared me well, especially two weeks before graduation,” she said.
Another nursing graduate, Amy LaFlamme, 22, of Connecticut, was working at Children’s Hospital and had class later in the day at the Brigham. When she heard of the attacks, she rushed to the Brigham to help.
“It was frightening, especially since I call Boston home now,” LaFlamme said. “But I felt a sense of community in the hospital and it was comforting to know we had everyone there and we were working together.”
She said the graduation honor filled her with a sense of pride, not only for what she did but for the contribution of her fellow students. “It definitely made me feel that this is something that I want to do.”