After year and a half of delays, class of 2020 celebrates commencement at Matthews Arena


Marta Hill

Graduates pose for a picture after receiving their alumni pins. The university will hold its annual commencement ceremony for the class of 2024 at Fenway Park for the fourth year in a row this spring.

Matt Yan, editor-in-chief

In the historic Matthews Arena Saturday, Northeastern’s class of 2020 shifted their tassels over their graduation caps and closed a chapter of their lives as students in a long-awaited celebration delayed by a pandemic that forever altered life as we knew it. 

While Northeastern typically holds graduation at TD Garden — except for last year’s class of 2021 graduation at Fenway Park to comply with social distancing guidelines — it was a quintessentially Northeastern celebration, the first ever held at Matthews Arena. Per Northeastern’s guidance for large events, all guests and graduates had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival. There were also two separate ceremonies, one held at 10 a.m. and the other at 2 p.m.

Parents and graduates flew in from around the world to celebrate the momentous occasion. For Anne Huckins, coming to see her daughter Katheryn Huckins, a civil engineering major, graduate made her emotional. Anne Huckins, who lives in New Hampshire, said she enjoyed the ceremony, especially given that she wasn’t sure if her daughter would have a graduation.

“I was very sad for her and didn’t know this would even happen with COVID numbers going up again. … I’m glad they could finally get this chance to do it,” she said.

Myriam Jeannis, who attended the first ceremony, graduated with a master’s degree in nonprofit management and completed all of her classes in December 2019. For her, graduation was a long time coming but also included mixed emotions, a sign of how the pandemic upended the lives of this class.

“It’s kind of like a bittersweet moment for me because my grandmother, who was so excited to be here with me — we’re actually having a funeral [for her] next Saturday,” she said.

However, Laura Packard, who was preparing for the second ceremony, said that this moment felt bizarre, especially because so much time had passed and that a lot of their fellow classmates and friends weren’t with them. 

“I think I’m just trying to get back into the mindset of how excited I was almost two years ago,” said Packard, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English in December 2019 and is now working in Boston. “It definitely feels a little bit strange but still really exciting.”  

President Joseph E. Aoun addressed the graduates and congratulated them for their resilience, a theme that radiated throughout the ceremonies as well as from each of the speakers.  

“Every graduating class, like every graduate, is tested. But your class faced the ultimate test — a global cataclysm that literally cut your final semester short,” he said. “The scale and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, yet you persevered. You overcame every challenge, every hardship. … Class of 2020, I am in awe of what you have achieved.”

Aoun recalled Feb. 3, 2020, the last Beanpot held at TD Garden. He said that earlier that day, the university’s leadership team held a meeting about a novel coronavirus, where multiple advisers like Director and Sternberg Family Distinguished Professor Alessandro Vespignani said that commencement might have to be canceled. When students and faculty vacated campus, Aoun said that while things like laptops and bicycles were left behind, the biggest thing left, the most precious, was “a piece of yourselves.”

“Today you’re here to collect that missing piece of your college experience — and that missing piece of yourselves — by reuniting for a long-delayed celebration,” Aoun said. 

Aoun spoke highly of the class, offering praise for being so adaptable in such unprecedented times. 

“More than any other class of Northeastern graduates, you endured immense pressure, sustained incredible heat, passed the most demanding tests. For each of you, COVID was your crucible,” he said. “You will succeed because you already have proven resilient, resourceful and resolute beyond measure. I believe in the years to come your class will have a disproportionate impact on the world.”

Graduates Ulpiano Flores Kuri, a chemical engineering major, and Kritika Singh, a bioengineering major, delivered student addresses at each ceremony, respectively. Originally from Mexico, Flores Kuri, spoke in the morning, offering some advice for his fellow graduates. He congratulated his peers for embracing adversity and continuing to stay motivated despite all odds. 

“Now, as we go out into the rest of our lives, let’s go out in courage and in confidence, not letting the fear of making mistakes limit our decisions and ambitions,” Flores Kuri said. “We are not destined to be perfect — don’t let anything cloud your happiness … and never forget, you will always be the Northeastern Class of 2020.” 

Ming Tsai, a James Beard award-winning chef and business owner, delivered the commencement address. Tsai now is in charge of Ming’s Bings, a new venture that benefits nonprofits. Throughout his talk, he emphasized the importance of finding your “true passion.” And for him, that meant tapping into the food industry. For the graduates, he related the idea of hunger and how it is a measure of success. 

“Is a truly successful person ever no longer hungry? No. There’s always more to learn. There’s always more to master. There’s always more different ways to give back, to make that difference,” he said. “And the most important thing … is what are you truly hungry for? The real question isn’t what you want to be, it’s who you want to be.”

Flora and Walter Harris came to support their daughter, Alisha, a master’s student in digital media. They said they were thrilled that commencement finally happened and enjoyed Tsai’s talk. 

“I liked the main speaker, the chef, in terms of telling [the graduates] to follow their passion and to be kind — that’s a good thing to take into your whole life,” Flora Harris said. 

Finally, Aoun returned to the stage, saying that the class of 2020 is a fitting name. 

“What this experience has given you, perhaps more than any other class before you, is vision, clarity and focus,” Aoun said. “With 20/20 vision, you will recognize the challenges ahead, wherever they arise. With 20/20 clarity, you will create solutions, leveraging all of your experiences, fueling the innovation that can help humankind achieve the impossible. With 20/20 focus, you approach the world’s problems through the human lens of compassion, empathy and inclusion. And you will guide the world to a dazzling future.”

Marta Hill contributed reporting to this story. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated Monday, Nov. 15 at 9:45 a.m. to accurately reflect Laura Packard’s pronouns.