Graduates, families, and friends, welcome to Northeastern University’s 121st Commencement exercises!
It is great to be with you today to celebrate the Class of 2023.
Graduates, please rise to thank your families, partners, and friends for all they have done to help you reach this moment.
Let’s give them a round of applause.
And let us thank the Northeastern faculty and staff who supported you.
Give them a round of applause, too.
I also want to salute our Golden Graduates, who graduated 50 years ago.
Golden Graduates, you are an inspiration to all of us and we’re honored to have you here today.
I also would like to pay tribute to Northeastern President Emeritus Jack Curry, who passed away last month.
His leadership was instrumental in building this great university.
And, finally, Class of 2023, give yourselves a big round of applause. You have earned it!
We are excited to share this special day with our Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipients.
We are delighted to welcome you to the Northeastern family.
Graduates, today we celebrate your achievements and experiences over these years of learning and reinvention.
Commencement is when you look ahead to an exciting future, but you also recount your journey to this moment.
Picture the person you were when you first arrived at Northeastern.
Since then, you have changed. You may even be unrecognizable to your old self.
You reinvented core pieces of your identity.
You have discovered a zeal for knowledge, a passion outside the classroom that defines your goals and dreams.
You have formed relationships that awakened the best part of your own nature.
You discovered a new part of the world. A place you never knew existed but is now part of your life’s story.
The flags you are holding represent these special places.
Please hold them up high and wave them.
This is one of my favorite moments at Commencement.
It is a spectacle of unity, joy, and color—a powerful statement of our shared humanity.
In preparing my speech today, I decided to ask ChatGPT to give me the top five commencement speech clichés of all time.
Here they are:
Follow your dreams.
You can make a difference in the world.
Believe in yourself.
Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Never give up on your goals.
Now that the clichés are out of the way, I would like to share with you a few lessons that I hope are more original.
The first lesson: Opportunity is always in motion.
Each of you will average more than 12 jobs throughout your lifetime. And you will relocate an average of 12 times.
The days of living in one place and having the same job for 40 years are ancient history.
When you leave this ceremony today, your journeys will be defined by career mobility. Geographic mobility. Global mobility.
And with AR and VR, you can even move from one reality to another.
This is where your Northeastern education gives you an advantage.
Your time at Northeastern was not confined to a campus. You had co-ops and dialogues and global experiences that allowed you to roam. These empowered you to live and learn in different contexts.
You may have experienced a semester in Silicon Valley or a Dialogue of Civilization in Ghana.
You may have done your first co-op at a biotech company and your second in a pediatric hospital.
Your path took countless twists and turns. It was not linear. It was not predictable. And yet you are here.
Your life will not be linear, nor will it be predictable. You will change jobs, countries, and perspectives.
Just ask our commencement speaker, Mariam Naficy. She lived in Tanzania and then Iran and then came to the United States. And that move was done with very little planning. It was actually an escape.
She went to college on the east coast, graduate school on the west coast.
The key is to welcome this global mobility. Actually you should do more than welcome it. Grab it. Embrace it. Make global mobility work for you.
Remember, opportunity is always in motion.
Something that’s synonymous with commencement are tears of joy. It’s mostly the parents of our graduates.
But I’ve even seen some of my faculty colleagues shed a few joyful tears.
Which brings me to my second lesson: Machines don’t weep.
Machines and artificial intelligence will continue to improve every day. These innovations will have a profound impact on all of us. Some will be beneficial, and others will not. There are people calling for society to hit the pause button out of fear that we will lose control of machines.
This is why our honorary degree recipient, Alondra Nelson, led the effort at the White House to draft an AI Bill of Rights to safeguard human beings.
In this context, many of you heard me speak before about the importance of being Robot-Proof. It is a lifelong journey.
I won’t recap those ideas today, but I would like to double down on one key point.
All of us should focus on what only we humans can do. I call this the human literacy.
It is the ability to create and to connect. To sense the mood of a room, to take charge of a team. To desire, achieve, and change the world.
There are countless ways to exercise our human literacy. Giving assistance to someone lost at the train station. Capturing an emotion through color or music. Launching a non-profit to end hunger. Standing with strangers to fight injustice.
For the foreseeable future computational power cannot express empathy. Microprocessors cannot comfort the afflicted. An algorithm cannot remedy the sting of systemic racism.
Take a problem as complex as climate change. It involves science, ethics, politics, business, and law. Most of all, it requires the human will to make change happen.
At Northeastern you learned to hone your humanity. You combined computer science with improv and ethics. You created NGOs and companies. You helped a friend battle anxiety during finals.
And you felt an overflow of joy when both our hockey teams won the Beanpot!
So flex your human literacies every day. In your life and in your work. This is our human edge.
After all, machines don’t dream of lifting trophies. They don’t reimagine the world. They do not weep.
My final piece of advice may sound simple, but it is easier said than done.
I call this lesson: “Get out of your TikTok tunnel.”
We all understand how social media algorithms work: We watch a video featuring Taylor Swift and, sure enough, we scroll down and we get more Taylor Swift.
These algorithms are self-reinforcing by design. This may be fine when it’s about a musical preference, but when it comes to ideas and beliefs it can be downright dangerous.
Social media algorithms create like-minded echo chambers. They cause us to harden our views and stake out positions on the extremes.
They can even lead us to demonize those who disagree with us—creating a new “digital tribalism.”
Our honorary degree recipient, Alberto Ibargüen, understands the dangers of this disconnection.
That’s why he pioneered ways to reengage people with their communities through digital news and the arts.
Your experiences at Northeastern can light the way.
Graduates, you come from every possible background, religion, race, nationality, orientation, and ideology. You’ve spent years getting to know each other. Learning from one another. And yes, disagreeing with each other.
Those disagreements and debates were a vital part of your Northeastern education. They shaped your thinking. Tested your assumptions. And yes, they led you to change your mind.
So, as you leave here today, I urge you to avoid getting pulled into these narrow silos. Set your sights on the broadest possible horizons. Turn up the volume to hear every voice and viewpoint. Savor the bold flavors and textures that enriched your Northeastern experience.
In short, get out of your TikTok tunnel.
Graduates, these three lessons don’t come with any course credit, but there will be a test.
The test is the life you live when you leave here today.
You will be globally mobile. You will traverse the world and have positive impacts on the people and places you encounter.
You will be empathetic, inquisitive, compassionate, and engaged. You are the architects of our future.
You will continue to learn. Endlessly expanding your understanding of the world. Constantly opening your eyes, and your minds, to new perspectives.
And remember, you will forever be a member of the Northeastern family. This community will nurture and support you as you bring your talents and passions to bear on a world filled with daunting challenges and spectacular opportunities.
Graduates, we are in your hands. I salute you!
Graduates, it is time for me to give you your charge.
As you reinvent yourselves, embrace your opportunities to explore the world.
Your avenues for impacting this world are as diverse as you are.
The unexpected detour makes all the difference.
Like Mariam Naficy, your journey may take you to other countries and other homes.
Wherever your journey takes you, Northeastern will forever be a source of light in your lives.
A light in the distance that guides you through a sudden storm. And storms will come.
A light inside you that ignites your passions, empowering a life of fulfillment and accomplishment.
A light on the other side of the moon that you can’t always see, but you can still feel.
Now it’s time to celebrate. And this celebration will not end when you leave this ceremony today.
Throughout your lives when you hear music, turn up the volume. Turn it up to eleven!
And when it’s time to dance, don’t dance like no one is watching. Dance like everyone is watching!
And you can start right now.
Class of 2023, let’s party!