Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,
This is graduation week! With exciting in person processions all week on campus, and Commencement in person on Saturday and Sunday at Fenway, how great is this! Again, Northeastern is leading the way, with many universities opting for virtual graduation ceremonies. I am honored to present our College of Science graduates, and my cap, gown and hood are ready. This is a time for CONGRATULATIONS, and my greatest gratitude to each of you who has taught, guided, facilitated and inspired our students. There would be no graduation without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The notion of degrees is as old as universities, with the University of Bologna, Italy in continuous operation from the 11th century granting the first degrees. This week I addressed several College graduation celebrations, including the following, generalized for this letter.
“I want to extend my warmest congratulations to each of you, and your families, receiving your degree this year, and to those of you also receiving awards. Years ago now, you were honored with entry into Northeastern University, and the university was honored that you enrolled. You made a very smart choice to enroll here, and an exceptionally smart choice to follow a Science degree path. The power of Science has never been greater. We are beating a pandemic through science research and training. And you are trained in a hugely important discipline, that can take you truly on any career path.
At Northeastern and in the College of Science, we are re-thinking higher education and the university, including how we give credit for academic study. There is the idea of incremental credits – nano- or micro-credentials, or badges – that can add up to something larger or stand alone. And these can be valuable. But I would not get rid of degrees. Your degree is worth so much. Contained within that piece of paper is the confidence in you of your many professors, advisors and supervisors. In your degree is endorsement of your competence, your triumph over difficult lecture and lab material, and over your challenging coop and research experiences. Your degree contains the support for your employment or educational next steps.
My own degree certificates are kept carefully rolled up in a drawer. To this day, I use what I learned as an undergraduate or PhD candidate, and the degrees have been a wonderful platform along my career path. I was a double major in Zoology and Chemistry, far away in South Africa. After graduation, I took three years to explore the world. The first stop was England, where someone told me they were desperately short of high school science teachers in a particular area of London.
Next day, I went along to the education office in the London Borough of Brent, and presented my degree certificate and an open letter of recommendation to the receptionist. They took my credentials, and in a few minutes the supervisor came out and asked whether I could start teaching next day. Now my only teaching experience had been with stuffed animals, so on the way home, I stopped by the library and took out a book on how to teach. For the next two years, I taught high school science –Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Calculus – all the way to A levels, the AP equivalent. It was exciting and challenging, and it drew on all my undergraduate education with more studying needed before every class.
After a couple of years, I had earned enough to travel the world, before applying as a PhD candidate in the United States. It was an honor to be accepted as an international student, and amazing that the training was paid for by the program. My PhD in Molecular Biology from Rockefeller University came not only with a certificate but with a beautiful blue, gold and velvet hood that you wear on ceremonial occasions. That degree opened the door to becoming a Professor, and has continued to provide a platform for each step of my career.
Your Northeastern degree will do the same for you. It will give you a platform on which you can move into your next steps, and will help you forever.
The last thing to encourage you to know, is that you don’t have to plan your entire life now. As an undergraduate, I could never have planned to be a Professor or Dean of Science at our outstanding university. I would have no idea what these entailed or whether I would be capable of them. Rather, I’ve walked step by step through my career, making decisions at each step about the next. As a Northeastern graduate, you have already experienced some careers through coop or research, and that puts you way ahead of most students. Some of you have your next educational or employment steps planned, and that is great, but many of you may be wondering where to put your talent and time. Don’t worry, take each step, and see what opens up that seems interesting and useful. I promise that with your valuable Northeastern Science degree, there will be many possibilities and that you will always find employment.
I am so proud to have each of you as a member of Northeastern University and the College of Science. Forever, you and your families will be an important part of the College and Northeastern. Congratulations!”
And CONGRATULATIONS again to each of you in our College who has been professor, advisor, supervisor, guide, and has supported our students and educational mission at every step of the way. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science