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Embrace Risk, Take Responsibility, and Change the World

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity cel­e­brated its 109th com­mence­ment on Friday May 6th at TD Garden in Boston, with the pomp and cir­cum­stance enlivened by cheers and shout-​​outs, booming music, flying beach balls and emo­tional embraces.

Throughout the event, speakers lauded the Class of 2011 for its col­lec­tive aca­d­emic achieve­ments and unique global expe­ri­ences, and chal­lenged seniors to face the unknown future with deter­mi­na­tion, pas­sion and a broad view of the world.

Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun noted that, like many of the 3,200 grad­u­ating seniors, he him­self arrived on campus five years ago. Since then, Aoun said, North­eastern has become a more diverse campus, while expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents abroad have expanded dra­mat­i­cally. As a result, he said stu­dents have been empow­ered to immerse them­selves in the world.

“Now, you are poised to begin new jour­neys in which each of you, in a thou­sand dif­ferent ways, will be faced with the dis­tinc­tive chal­lenge of your gen­er­a­tion — cre­ating har­mony in a world of ever-​​increasing diver­sity,” Aoun said. “It will be your task to find secu­rity in the face of con­flict, pro­mote health in the face of sick­ness and assure the sus­tain­ability of the planet in the face of scarcity.

“I believe you are ready to meet these chal­lenges, in what­ever form they may come. Each of you will have the capacity to make great con­tri­bu­tions to the lives of your fellow men and women. The prob­lems of our age may seem daunting, but as inno­va­tors and entre­pre­neurs, you can be the ones to solve them.

Aoun also encour­aged stu­dents to become global cit­i­zens and take risks rather than play it safe.

“Let your pas­sion be the fuel that drives your work – and let your com­pas­sion be the force that makes it valu­able to the world,” he said.
Henri Ter­meer, former chief exec­u­tive officer and chairman of Gen­zyme Cor­po­ra­tion, and Ichiro Fujisaki, Japanese ambas­sador to the United States, both deliv­ered inspiring speeches to the crowd of 22,000. Ter­meer called this point in time a “remark­able moment” in which the globe faces enor­mous chal­lenges and mas­sive pop­u­la­tion growth in the years ahead.

Ter­meer told grad­u­ates they must step up to con­front these chal­lenges, adding that their co-​​op expe­ri­ences will give them an edge as they enter the next phase of their lives.

“We have to be bold, and if we are bold, and if we take risks, and if we take respon­si­bility for the risks that we take, in the fol­lowing years we will change the world,”Ter­meer said.

Ter­meer, a pio­neer in devel­oping and deliv­ering treat­ments for rare genetic dis­eases, was pre­sented with the hon­orary degree Doctor of Global Business.

North­eastern also pre­sented an hon­orary degree to Fujisaki on behalf of the people of Japan, in recog­ni­tion of their extra­or­di­narily coura­geous response to the earth­quake and tsunami that struck their country in March. Fujisaki empha­sized the sig­nif­i­cance of America and the rest of the world in standing by Japan, adding that the country will emerge stronger than ever.

“I am very grat­i­fied to be here,” he said. “The people of Japan would really appre­ciate the idea that they are being rec­og­nized by Northeastern.

Also receiving hon­orary degrees were: Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, pres­i­dent and William T. Golden Chair, Amer­ican Academy of Arts and Sci­ences; Rev. Dr. Gre­gory G. Groover Sr., chair, Boston School Com­mittee, and pastor, His­toric Charles Street A.M.E. Church; and Bert and John Jacobs, cofounders, Life is good Company.

The “Golden Grad­u­ates” in atten­dance — mem­bers of the Class of 1961 —were also recognized.

Stu­dent speaker Sarah Tishler, a triple major in inter­na­tional affairs, psy­chology and French, told her fellow grad­u­ates they “are about to take flight” and embark on amazing paths.

“While you can still call your­self an under­grad­uate, pic­ture the person you want to be in 20 years. I want you to take that vision and believe it,” Tishler said. “In this room are the future curers of cancer, the treaty signers, the industry leaders, the pio­neering engi­neers, the rev­o­lu­tionary thinkers, the inspiring teachers, and so much more. We can and we will do great things, pro­vided we embrace risks, and con­tinue to learn from our suc­cesses and failures.

Sylvia Mathews Bur­well, pres­i­dent of the Global Devel­op­ment Pro­gram at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, served as the com­mence­ment speaker at the after­noon cer­e­mony for grad­u­ates receiving advanced degrees. She empha­sized the value of public ser­vice and urged stu­dents to give back in their own lives — whether through a career, vol­un­teering in the com­mu­nity or finding a way to help a needy child on the other side of the world.

“As you go through life, there are many effec­tive ways to approach and quan­tify your con­tri­bu­tion, but impact on indi­vidual people is a pow­erful lens to keep in mind,” she said.

Bur­well, who was awarded the hon­orary degree Doctor of Phil­an­thropy, also left stu­dents with one piece of advice: “Always keep learning, always have fun and always make a difference.”

– by Greg St. Martin

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