A flurry of caps, gowns, and hundreds of national flags burst into Fenway Park Friday evening as the Northeastern University undergraduate class of 2022 streamed through entrances in the bleachers onto the field to receive their diplomas.
The scoreboard read #Like A Husky, the school’s mascot as jumbotrons zoned in on smiling graduates, friends, and family.
Chants of “Chobani” from students welcomed the keynote speaker Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of the company that makes the Greek yogurt.
“There are going to be a lot of things about the world and society that make you extremely uncomfortable or even angry, and you can ignore it or you can work to change,” he told the graduates. “My hope for all of you today is that you work to change. I have come to know the greatest power, the most beautiful, is a life dedicated to helping others.”
The school returned to Fenway Park this year for its 120th commencement after holding the 2021 graduation there the previous year and a postponed commencement for the Class of 2020 in Matthews Arena on campus last fall.
Students were given a flag for the country they or their family was from, and they waved them high above their seats in an explosion of colors.
“Your global experiences have taken you beyond the cliches of commencement speeches,” said Northeastern President Joseph President Aoun. “These experiences will make all the difference as you lead organizations, mentor a new generation, and create your vision and impact on society. Your invention will change the course of tomorrow.”
Honorary degrees were given to Sandra L. Fenwick, former CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital; Donna Shalala, a former Congresswoman and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; the Rev. Willie Bodrick, senior pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury; and Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland.
Chinma Nnadozie-Okananwn, wore signs of her accomplishments as an honors student and president of the slam poetry club in colored cords around her neck, as well as a stole from the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute, as she received her undergraduate degree in English.
“I’m excited for the flag waving,” said Nnadozie-Okananwn as she gestured to her Nigerian flag. “They’re incorporating more of the flags, we get to all rep our countries and that stuff.”
Another student, Amr Mecca, graduating with a major in political science, carried the flags of India and Jordan, both countries family members flew in from to watch him receive his diploma.
“It’s such a blessing to be in person,” said Mecca. “Being in person and being in Fenway, which is a symbol of Boston, it just makes everything more meaningful and really capitalizes the moment.”
Rene Faria, the father of Arianna Faria, a mechanical engineering major, came to the commencement with her mother and sister, who had come from Caracas, Venezuela to attend the ceremony.
“We’re very proud, we’re very happy, we’re very privileged to be here in Boston and on a beautiful day like this,” said Faria.
Ulukaya ended his speech with a call for the graduating class to “find meaning and change the world.”
“My brothers and sisters, my nephews and nieces, the future is waiting for you. You are alive at just the right time that will give you the most,” he said. “The magic of Northeastern education is now a part of you, the magic of your professors, the academia and your loved ones is now a part of you, and I can’t wait to see what you can do with it.”
Grace Gilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.