Speakers address media, artificial intelligence at commencement

Graduating seniors watch the commencement ceremony.

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By Calli Remillard, news staff

World-renowned journalist Christiane Amanpour urged Northeastern University graduates to recognize truth from lies amid the prevalence of “fake news” at the undergraduate commencement ceremony Friday.

“Be the generation that changes this toxic brew of polarization and partisanship that we’re drowning in, and that threatens to destroy our civilizations, our societies and our democracies,” she said.

A crowd of 20,000 gathered at TD Garden for the ceremony, which included speeches from Amanpour, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun and student speaker Pankhuri Singhal.

Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, has reported on many major world conflicts throughout her career, including the American conflict in Iraq and the height of the Arab Spring. She has also championed journalists’ rights and awareness for global issues while making a name for herself in the field.

Borrowing words from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Amanpour challenged the nearly 4,000 graduates to “get in good trouble.”

She also addressed “alternative facts” and the dismissal of unfavorable information as “fake news,” something she said she has dedicated her journalistic career to combating.  

“The rejection of science, of facts and of truth is the hallmark of today’s populists everywhere,” she said. “[This] fired up my long struggle to stay truthful, but never neutral.”

Amanpour also encouraged the women of the graduating class to be the generation that demands equal pay for equal work.

“All I know is it will take all of us, boys and girls, men and women, to make it happen,” Amanpour said. “It is not about women dominating, it is about simple equality and parity.”

After the ceremony, graduating business administration major Eleni Philipon said Amanpour’s address resonated with graduates, who are preparing for their careers.

“I thought the end of [Amanpour’s speech] was really relevant to all of us, and it was relevant to what we are going out into in the world,” Philipon said.

Though the graduates all sported black caps and gowns, the Garden floor was a sea of color as students held up flags from over 164 countries.

“There are many flags represented here today; wave them,” Aoun said. “These are the places you studied, worked and learned.”

During his address, Aoun reminded the graduating class that although today’s world is one of artificial intelligence, humans’ emotional intelligence is an irreplaceable asset.

“Creativity, entrepreneurship, cultural agility, empathy—these are the qualities that make us uniquely human, and they are more valuable and powerful than any artificial intelligence, robot or advanced machines,” Aoun said.

Accompanied by FRAISER, a 4-foot tall robot created by Northeastern students and associate professor Taskin Padir, Aoun urged graduates to remain lifelong learners, which he said is the key to staying ahead of artificial intelligence.

Despite FRAISER’s joke that there is “no time like the present” for robots to replace human beings, Aoun said the world still needs the compassion of humans amongst the rise of technology.

“Each of you has honed your human qualities during your time at Northeastern; nurture them,” Aoun said. “They are humanity’s brightest energy, more awe-inspiring than any algorithm, and these qualities will help you remain current, and not obsolete.”

In Singhal’s address, she referred to her fellow graduates as the ideal think tank, in which people of various backgrounds contribute their unique experiences and identities.

Singhal told a personal anecdote from just before her freshman year at Northeastern, when she mistakenly attended the orientation for neuroscience rather than biology. Singhal then switched her major to neuroscience and conducted research in the field throughout her time at Northeastern.

“That simple turn in the road opened up a whole new world for me,” she said.

Singhal also recited a joke about a man who constantly prays to win the lottery but never buys a ticket. She then used the metaphor of as a platform to tell her classmates that they must now buy their tickets.

“We have spent the last four or five years discovering what drives us, how we want to contribute to society,” Singhal said. “But having these dreams is no longer enough; we must still buy a ticket, and that ticket is engagement.”

While dreams and hopes for the future fill the heads of nearly every Northeastern graduate this year, graduating architecture major Brigitte Tentorio had a more short-term goal in mind.

“I’m really excited for everything in the future, there’s so many things to do,” she said. “But first, I need a vacation.”

Photos by Paxtyn Merten

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