More than 4,000 Northeastern University students received diplomas Friday, along with a message urging them to embrace curiosity and daydreaming delivered by Paralympic athlete and actress Aimee Mullins.
Mullins, 41, encouraged graduates to maintain their wonder and always seek out new things. The double amputee was born without fibular bones in both legs and has had prosthetic legs for most of her life. She recounted her first 100 meter race, during which she broke the world record despite it being her first attempt.
“I thought to myself, ‘what else can I do that I didn’t know I could do?’ ” Mullins told the graduates during the ceremony at TD Garden.
Mullins became the first double amputee to compete in the long jump, competing only alongside men. A year later, she had broken that world record, too.
Mullins, who was also a model for British fashion designer Alexander McQueen in the late 1990s and an actress best known for her role in Emmy-nominated “Stranger Things,” said curiosity has always led her to try new things.
“I never wanted to be the princess that had to be rescued,” Mullins said. “I always wanted to be a knight.”
The graduates paid homage to Mullins with a “Stranger Things”-themed video at the start of the commencement, in which students pictured in casual attire snapped their fingers and were suddenly wearing a cap and gown. The video used the show’s signature ’80s horror movie font to announce the class of 2018.
Mullins encouraged students to be aware of how social media platforms such as Facebook and Spotify can keep us in “curated” bubbles, where we are no longer exposed to new and different ideas.
“College is the last time most of us are required to read books we wouldn’t otherwise, to watch films from genres we wouldn’t gravitate toward, and it tends to be the last time we truly grapple with subjects and ideologies that aren’t familiar or easily digestible for us,” Mullins said. “If you’re not vigilant, you too will start creating your own echo chamber.”
Finally, Mullins reminded students that their graduation day was a beginning, not an end.
“Commence every day with a little bit of that just-born feeling,” she said.
As the new graduates filtered out of the Garden, embracing loved ones and holding bouquets of roses, they reflected on the past few years of studies and experiences.
“It’s honestly the moment I’ve been waiting for the last four years,” said Omar Mishkhas, an industrial engineering graduate. “It still hasn’t registered yet — to have all that effort for this one moment. I’m sure I’m going to feel sad when I go home.”
Sara Rodas, a business administration graduate, jumped into the arms of a friend and classmate, who she said she soon will be living with and working alongside at Amazon. “She’s my only friend in a new city,” Rodas said, laughing.
“Northeastern’s crazy because I’ve lived in three different cities in five years, she said. “It’s been an amazing experience but I’m ready to just live in one city for a while.”
And for many, the day was a stepping stone after years of hard work.
“I feel free,” said political science graduate Amanda Fazio. “I feel like I’m ready to go. I’m very excited about this opportunity, and I’m happy that my parents were able to get me through it and it’s time to begin.”Laney Ruckstuhl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @laneyruckstuhl.