Sunday, December 14, 2014

Showered with blue and gold balloons, Northeastern Illinois University’s newest class of graduates celebrated Commencement on Dec. 14 at UIC Pavilion.

“As you leave Northeastern Illinois University, know that we are optimistic in the future because we have confidence in you,” President Sharon Hahs said. “We are proud of you.”

More than 600 graduates participated in the ceremony.

The Commencement address was delivered by Northeastern alumnus William Pollakov, president and CEO of The Pollakov Financial Group Inc., one of the premier financial services organizations in California.

Pollakov, whose father died when he was only 5 years old, said that his story of business success and philanthropy should serve as an example for Northeastern’s graduates.

“You want to meet the president of the United States? I’m here telling you that you can be the president of the United States,” said Pollakov, who graduated from Northeastern in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education: Physical Education. “Today is one of the great days of your life. This day is yours. Cherish it and never forget it.”

Pollakov described an aimless childhood during which school advisers would tell his classmates to stay away from him.

“How did I go from someone who had no plans, had no dreams, had no successes, certainly had no support team to an achiever?” he said. “My journey toward success, I didn’t understand it until I started preparing for this talk. My journey toward success started later in life, and it started at Northeastern.”

Near the end of high school, Pollakov said he finally began to apply himself in class and earned a tennis scholarship from Northeastern. He eventually received a letter from former Northeastern President Jerome Sachs congratulating him on making the honors list.

“It was a turning point of my life,” he said, raising the letter for the audience to see. “Forty-five years later, I still hold the same letter because it proved to me that I can do it.”

The lesson, Pollakov said, was clear, and it still applies to today’s graduates.

“The road to success doesn’t start once your opportunity arrives,” he said. “Your opportunity arrives once you’ve positioned yourself for that success. Succeeding is a habit.”

Also at the Commencement ceremony:

  • Northeastern presented Communication, Media and Theatre professor Cynthia Moran with the Audrey Reynolds Distinguished Teaching Award. “Professor Moran is an advocate for professional development and an inspiration to our students,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Richard Helldobler said.
  • Northeastern honored professors emeriti Veronica Curtis-Palmer, Christina Georgakis, Joyce Jennings and Jane Weintraub. “We commend our honorees for their meritorious service,” Helldobler said.
  • Vice President for Institutional Advancement Melba Rodriguez presented the class gift of more than $3,000 to the NEIU Foundation.