Today, Saturday, May 16th, was scheduled to be Northern Essex Community College’s 58th Annual Commencement ceremony.
Like every other feature of our lives right now—work, school, shopping, travel, socializing—our commencement plans have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Class of 2020 is going to celebrate, and be celebrated, later this summer, in a virtual ceremony on August 8, and into 2021, when this year’s graduates will be invited back to walk the stage under that enormous white tent out on the quad.
Meanwhile, graduates will be receiving special celebration packages in June that include caps and diplomas, signs, and special gifts from the college, and they will have the opportunity to share videos and pictures to be included in our virtual ceremony.
All of the details are being sent to graduates, and will be available on our commencement web site. I hope that every member of the NECC community will join in with our graduates and their families on August 8 to celebrate at a distance, and again next year when hopefully we can be together again.
A Special Message for the NECC Class of 2020
Every commencement I have ever attended has had its unique, memorable moments—especially graduation ceremonies here at Northern Essex Community College.
For most of us at NECC, commencement is our favorite day of the year, filled with celebration, tradition, occasionally some silliness and, yes, “pomp and circumstance.”
Those few seconds it takes for the newly minted graduate to walk across the stage and accept that degree may not take long, but they are filled with vivid images that last forever.
Back in 2013, I wrote “Shake on It,” for Inside Higher Ed, my observations about the wild range of graduate handshakes I experienced while doling out diplomas.
A couple years later, in “Pomp and Pumps,” I described the creative footwear to be found among all the bagpipers piping, professors processing, and commencement speakers speechifying.
But far more important than the readings and the regalia are the stories behind each and every one of the more than a thousand NECC degrees and certificates awarded each year.
In 2016, CJay DiPrima graduated from NECC with a degree in Art after beating lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the immune system. His mantra throughout his painful course of treatment was always, “Stay Positive,” which he turned into a line of “Stay + Apparel” including tank tops, baseball caps, sweatshirts and t-shirts—about a dozen of which I shot out of a t-shirt cannon during commencement that year.
Support Each Other
Just last year, our student commencement speaker was Yexis Hechavarria. Raised in Cuba without a computer or internet access by parents earning less than $22 a month, Yexis emigrated to America when she was 17, learned English at Lawrence High School, studied Biology at NECC, and plans to become a doctor.
As amazing as Yexis herself is, she had a strong message for the Class of 2019: “You cannot accomplish much of anything alone. You need people to support you.”
Finish What You Start
Perhaps the most memorable degree I have ever presented was during my first commencement ceremony as NECC’s president, in 2012, when I had the privilege of shaking hands with Pat Lundin, a 64-year-old graduate who took her first class with us in 1967—the year I was born.
As this article in the Boston Globe explains, Pat took classes when she could over the years, stopping out to raise children, go to work after her husband’s heart attack, struggle through her own health crises, and other challenges she encountered along the way.
Through it all, Pat remembered hearing her father’s advice to her as she was growing up: “If you’re going to start something, finish it.”
And she did.
Yes, if this was a normal Northern Essex Community College Commencement day, we would all be together under that big white tent, surrounded by family, friends, professors, and supporters (and a handful of bagpipers).
I’d be wearing a funny hat:
You would all be lining up—a sea of black robes, blue hoods, and gold tassels, to walk across the stage and receive your diplomas.
But this is not a normal Northern Essex Community College Commencement day—we all know that—and you are not a normal class of Northern Essex Community College graduating students.
This is an extraordinary time, and you are a group of extraordinary graduates.
Unique among all of NECC’s nearly 60 commencement classes, and chosen by history to complete your education here during a global pandemic, when the world has been kept apart, your classes have been at a distance, and there is tremendous fear and uncertainty all around, you have persevered.
You are strong.
You are resilient.
You have followed CJay DiPrima’s (’16) advice and stayed positive.
You have listened to Yexis Hechavarria (’19) and supported each other.
Mostly importantly, the words of Pat Lundin (’12) and her dad have echoed in your mind, and you have finished what you started.
The road ahead may be challenging for all of us, but you have proven that you are ready for it, and I congratulate you.
We may not be together under that big, white tent today, Northern Essex Community College Class of 2020, but this is your invitation to start the celebration anyway—you’ve earned it—and let it carry all of us to our virtual Commencement on August 8, into 2021, and beyond.