United States Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez encouraged students to honor the trailblazers who made their education possible and to in turn open doors for future generations during Northeastern Illinois University’s Commencement ceremony on May 7, 2018, at UIC Pavilion.
Northeastern awarded Gutiérrez an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his achievements. Among his many accomplishments, Gutiérrez played an instrumental role in advocating for executive action by President Barack Obama to provide deportation relief to certain long-term undocumented immigrants and their families. Gutiérrez’s advocacy helped lead to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects some immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
Gutiérrez, a Northeastern alumnus who earned his Bachelor of Arts in English in 1976, is in his 12th term serving Illinois’ Fourth District and in November announced he will not seek a 13th term. His career is one Gutiérrez said he could never have imagined when the graduated from Northeastern.
“If you’re sitting there with a clear path for yourself, congratulations. You’re a lot further along than I was at that point,” Gutiérrez said. “For those of you who don’t have a plan for what’s next, I say don’t worry. You will figure it out because you have a degree from Northeastern Illinois University, and that I can assure you from my experience is a great foundation to build upon.”
Gutiérrez was born and raised in Chicago, the son of parents who migrated to Chicago from Puerto Rico in the early 1950s. He previously served as an alderman in the City of Chicago and has been a teacher, a social worker and a cab driver, among other diverse experiences.
He talked about the African-Americans, women, Native Americans and Latinos who fought for access to education and the right to vote in decades past.
“They were finally heard because you are graduating today. They opened the door to education and advancement to all,” Gutiérrez said. “I would not be in Congress—I would not be here talking to you—if people had not fought and died for voting rights during the Civil Rights movement in the United States of America.
“People I never met sacrificed so much so the doors could open for me and others.
We need to keep that in mind and honor those who went before us by opening the door a little wider for the next person, and the next person, and the next person.”
Gutiérrez reflected on his father and mother, who were 20 and 18, respectively, when they arrived from Puerto Rico. Through their example, Gutiérrez said he developed a sense of social justice in which a struggle for one is a struggle for all.
“My mom and dad didn’t have a college degree, but they raised their son to never allow bigotry and discrimination to exist without raising his voice,” he said.
To the DACA recipients among the graduates, he said: “We stand with you, and I will not rest until the job is done and you have your citizenship in the United States of America.”
Honor and appreciation was a recurring theme among the Commencement speakers. Board of Trustees Chair Carlos Azcoitia invited the graduates to reflect on what he called their “masterpiece”—their degree.
“There are multiple narratives and stories with you and your families, and now we are all bound and connected by Northeastern’s experience,” he said. “Always remember, ‘I am who I am because we are.’ We must recognize your families, your professors, your advisers and everyone who’s had a positive influence in your life. The world is your new classroom. Go out there. Own it.”
Acting President Wamucii Njogu reminded the graduates that they have earned their degrees during the University’s sesquicentennial celebration year.
“For 150 years, Northeastern has graduated dedicated and hard-working individuals like you,” she said. “Welcome to the club. Now that you’ve completed the requirements for the degrees you are about to receive today, you shouldn’t think of our Commencement ceremony as a time when something ends; it’s really a beginning, as well as an opportunity for celebration and appreciation.”
Njogu ended her address by congratulating the graduating class of students.
“You worked hard, you succeeded, and now you can celebrate!” she said. “On behalf of the entire Northeastern Illinois University community—faculty, staff, students, the Board of Trustees, alumni, our many friends and supporters, and those who for generations have worked to sustain this special place—I extend to each of you our heartfelt congratulations and very best wishes. You did it, Class of 2018. Northeastern Illinois University is very, very proud of you.”
Student speaker and University Honors Scholar Su Oh, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting, encouraged the graduates to draw from the strength of Northeastern’s diversity.
“Northeastern has made an impact on all of us by leading us to be good people, and we have professors and staff who support us, understand us and care about our success,” she said. “They taught us to keep working hard and opportunities will follow. As we move on from here and start a new journey, I hope we can remember the most important lesson Northeastern taught us as we move on to the diverse and exciting world: Never stop, keep moving forward, and keep on following your passions.”
Also DURING the Commencement ceremony
- Professor of Physics Paulo Acioli was presented with the Bernard J. Brommel Distinguished Research Professor Award.
- Northeastern honored six faculty members who earned emeritus status: Professor Emerita of Psychology Saba Ayman-Nolley, Associate Professor Emeritus of Accounting, Business Law and Finance Andy Chen, Professor Emerita of Linguistics Judith Kaplan-Weinger, Professor Emerita of Linguistics Shahrzad Mahootian, Associate Professor Emerita of Literacy, Leadership and Development JoAnne Vazzano, and Associate Professor Emerita of Teacher Education Judith Yturriago.
- Social Work graduate Juan David Molina Cortes announced that the Class Gift scholarship fund collection has raised more than $2,800 so far this year.
- The processional and recessional were performed by the University Wind Ensemble and conducted by Associate Professor of Music Travis Heath. The national anthem was performed by Emma Oberdick.