2018 Commencement: NEIU Students and Congressman Receive Degrees

Nicole F. Anderson, News and Co-Managing Editor

Audio of Luis Gutierrez’s speech from Commencement

There were 931 undergraduate and graduate students dressed in blue and black gowns who  marched into UIC’s Pavilion with pride to receive their diplomas on May 7.

The Chair of Mathematics and Faculty Senate, Lidia Filus, called the ceremony to order and was followed by vocalist Emma Oberdick who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Carlos M. Azcoitia, the chair of the Board of Trustees, greeted the crowd and said, “Was the tassel worth the hassle? You have made it – congratulations!”

Photo by Robin Bridges.

Azcoitia continued and said, “We are all bound and connected by Northeastern’s experience. Always remember: I am who I am because we are. And we are Northeastern.”

He reminded the graduates to remember the people whom have helped them reach this moment: family, friends, teachers, advisors, etc.

Azcoitia said, “So, learn in the city and lead through the world, aprendemos en nuestras ciudad y somos lideres en el mundo. The world is your new classroom, go out there, all of you. Congratulations, class of 2018. Felicidades.”

NEIU student Su Oh took the mic to give the student speech. She congratulated her fellow classmates and said, “We made it!” Oh told a story from when she was a freshman at NEIU when she asked an upperclassman what advice he could give his freshman self.

NEIU grad Su Oh taking the mic – Photo by Robin Bridges.

“There were two that really stood out to me. First, he said, in order to get a good parking spot, you need to get to school at exactly the right time. More importantly, stay passionate and do things you love, even if they’re not related to your major,” Oh said.

Interim President Wamucii Njogu followed to give her remarks to the graduates. Njogu congratulated the students. She asked how everyone was doing and said, “Jambo,” or hello, in Swahili. “Like many of us in here today, I am also a person who speaks another language or two. So, I am very much at home with our diversity population,” Njogu said.

Photo by Robin Bridges.

Njogu introduced a short video to the audience that congratulated the graduates.

Afterward, Njogu introduced Congressman Luis Gutierrez and gave him a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa. Gutierrez showed the crowd his honorary degree and thanked NEIU for the degree, “Whoever decided to give me an honorary degree today, I want to say thank you. I am proud, once again, to say I got my degree from Northeastern Illinois University,” Gutierrez said. 

“I am proud, once again, to say I got my degree from Northeastern Illinois University.”

— Luis Gutierrez


Congressman Luis Gutierrez receiving his honorary degree. Photos by Robin Bridges.

Gutierrez talked about not having solid plans after graduating and how it’s okay and used himself as an example. He graduated from NEIU, worked odd jobs, married his wife, became a congressman and is now going to retire and help rebuild Puerto Rico.

The congressman spoke about NEIU’s diversity and remembering the people who fought tooth and nail to create an opportunity for people of color, women, working class and LGBTQ+ folks to attend school, hold higher positioned jobs and run for congress.

“The doors to the schoolhouse and college classrooms did not open by themselves to the Latino community, to women, to African Americans, or working-class Americans. Someone had to push them open and at every turn throughout history, someone had to fight to open that door. Whether it was women who demanded an education or the right to vote. Or African Americans and Native Americans and Latino forefather and foremothers, all of us owe a huge debt and gratitude to them because they were finally heard. You are graduating today. They opened those doors,” Gutierrez said.    

The graduates proceed to receive their degrees and wave to their loved ones in the crowd. NEIU graduate Stephanie Velez said, “I did it for my grandma; It’s an accomplishment.”

Commencement planning began in January of this year. The Office of Student Union and Event and Conference Services are the lead departments in planning commencement ceremony. They take care things such as the venue contract, audio, video and lighting production, balloons and confetti cannons.

The Commencement Planning Committee has 15-20 people each semester from Student Union, Event and Conference Services, Enrollment Services, the President’s Office, the Provost’s Office, Marketing and Public Relations, Office of Student Affairs, etc.

Chair of the Commencement Planning Committee Kyle Burke said “It is also important to note that it takes a village of people to make everything work on the day of the ceremony.  For this past ceremony we had 87 volunteers from all areas of the university (President’s Office, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Finance and Administration, Marketing and Communications, and Institutional Advancement)​ working in various capacities, such as checking-in and lining-up the graduates, to make the ceremony run smoothly.”

The committee members plan different parts of the ceremony such as the commencement program book, compiling the ceremony script and handle the Salute to Graduate events which is where graduates pick up their tickets, regalia and have their photo taken. The committee also deals with the communication with the graduates which includes website updates, newsletters, regalia information and ticket distribution.

In an email to the Independent, Burke said that NEIU’s statement to the graduates would be, “CONGRATULATIONS….YOU MADE IT!  We hope that we have created a memorable event that celebrates your achievements and serves as an exciting send-off as you ​enter the next chapter in your lives!”