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Author tells Northeastern grads to celebrate their ‘un-Instagrammable selves’

Author Tara Westover delivered the commencement address Friday at Northeastern University’s graduation.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

Best-selling author Tara Westover on Friday urged Northeastern University’s Class of 2019 to celebrate the sides of themselves they don’t share on social media — the parts of them that are imperfect.

Those moments are part of the journey to success.

“March up here and claim your degree and give the camera the best smile you can,” she told about 4,000 graduates inside TD Garden. “But before you upload that photo tonight, check in with your un-Instagramable selves and thank them.”

Westover also received an honorary degree from Northeastern. Her memoir, “Educated,” was one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2018 and was a finalist for a number of awards.


She was born in Idaho to parents who did not believe in public education, and she never attended school. Instead, Westover spent her days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother.

However, she went on to graduate from Brigham Young University and earn a master’s from the University of Cambridge in England.

Westover followed her speech by singing a Mormon hymn.

Author Tara Westover received an honorary degree at the Northeastern University graduation at TD Garden. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

The event followed standard commencement protocol, complete with graduates moving their tassels to the other side of their caps and filing down aisles to receive diplomas from their respective colleges.

But not every aspect of the ceremony followed tradition.

The audience was treated to a humorous video of university president Joseph E. Aoun’s morning leading up to commencement. Students, relatives, and school officials cracked up to a scene showing Aoun asleep on his desk amid a barrage of texts asking where he was.

Aoun wakes up, grabs his hat and glasses, and performs an elaborate set of parkour moves through Boston to get to TD Garden on time. The video closes with Aoun running into the arena, only to have forgotten his speech.


Onstage, Aoun congratulated the graduates on their achievements.

“You will be the architects of this world,” he said. “When I look at you, I know we will be in good hands.”

Aoun advised graduates to always be able to reinvent themselves, touching on the Northeastern goal of creating robot-proof professionals.

It had been an early start for many of the graduates, as they were required to report to the arena at 7 a.m. Many planned on eating a celebratory lunch with family afterward and going back home to sleep.

For Olivia Giorlandino, who received a degree in communications studies, one of the most memorable parts of the morning was seeing the horde of fully dressed graduates also boarding the subway train to get to the Garden.

“It was like the entire T car was just Northeastern,” she said. “Just the image of all of us in our caps and gowns boarding the Orange Line at Ruggles was the moment of like ‘Wow, we are really doing this.’ The metaphor of, like, this is the train to the rest of our lives.”

After the ceremony, parents waited outside, bouquets of flowers in hand, to greet their new graduates. Many felt a sense of relief.

“I feel she has accomplished quite a lot,” said Agatha Cadette, a mother of a graduate. “As a parent, I feel proud.”

Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at