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Colin Powell tells Northeastern University grads: 'We are counting on you'

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  May 4, 2012 03:26 PM

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(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Colin Powell, former US secretary of state, exhorted Northeastern University's class of 2012: "We can't sit around waiting for Superman to come save the day. We the people are the super men and super women.''

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell urged graduating Northeastern University students today to follow their passion in everything they do and be active participants in a world that needs them.

“As each of you looks toward your future, always focus on finding that which you do well and that which you love doing," Powell told the more than 22,000 students, friends and family members at Northeastern University’s 110th commencement ceremony held at TD Garden. "Do something that gives you satisfaction everyday and makes our society a better place."

The need to serve others has never been greater in this country, he said. "Money and position will or will not follow, but satisfaction will always be there."

Northeastern's ceremony kicked off the region's robust commencement season. For details on graduation plans of other local private colleges, click here.

At the Garden, nearly 3,200 graduating students adorned their black caps and gowns with glittering red-and-white “2012” “NU” and “Huskies” to show their pride. Others opted for sillier slogans including “YoLo” and “Meow."

The top of one graduate's mortarboard was covered with fluorescent yellow paper that read“THANK YOU MOM DAD -- ALLI” with gold glitter edges.

The university's newest graduates were also joined by alumni from the class of 1962, celebrating their 50-year reunion in golden gowns.

Powell served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush. At the time, it was the highest post ever held by an African American in the US government.

He was also the first African American and youngest officer to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under President Bill Clinton.

In his commencement address, Powell pointed to his own career that started in the Army ROTC while he was studying at City College of New York.

"I didn’t have to become a general to find satisfaction in my career nor was that ever promised to me. I found satisfaction every day knowing I was doing my best and serving my country," he said.

Before his speech, Powell received an honorary doctorate for his work in public service, which includes founding the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service at City College of New York, and the America’s Promise Alliance.

When encouraging the graduates to volunteer and give back to communities, he focused on the need to educate and support children from an early age.

"Don't go about trying to save the world," he said. "You will start saving the world by just saving one kid and making them a part of your life."

Powell spoke broadly about politics, calling for compromise and consensus building in government, balancing the budget, and reducing carbon emissions, while encouraging graduates to be active and involved in political and public life on all levels.

“We can't sit around waiting for Superman to come save the day. We the people are the super men and super women. We are the deciders, so make yourself smart about the issues. Don't fall for slogans...and super PAC money," said Powell, before a loud applause erupted over his words. "Dont stand on the sidelines. Vote."

Powell assured students that although the future is uncertain, the world is changing for the better.

"I've seen far worst times than this. We are living in challenging times, but more nations are free and democratic than ever before in history," said Powell, pointing to the Arab Spring as an example of citizens fighting for an economy that works, elected leaders, and the end of corruption.

America is still an inspiration to those working to improve their own countries, said Powell who was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants before moving to the South Bronx where he grew up.

"We’re still that wonderful place my parents found some 90 years ago when they came here ... as long as we continue to enrich ourselves with new generations of leaders such as you," he said. "We are counting on you."

Powell's message of being involved and pursuing your dreams was echoed Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun.

“First, surround yourself with people who are ahead of you. People who challenge you and force you to think deeply,” Aoun told the graduates.

Aoun encouraged students to challenge themselves as well by facing their fears and taking chances that could change their lives.

“In those moments be bold. Take risks even if it scares you,” he said.

Other notable figures who received honorary degrees were: Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Sy Sternberg, former New York Life CEO and chairman of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees; David Ferriero, archivist of the United States; and Jacqueline A. Berrien, chairwoman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ferriero was scheduled to address students at the university’s ceremony for graduate degree recipients at a 3:30 p.m. ceremony at Matthews Arena.
Twitter: @YTFenwayKenmore, @JohannaKaiser

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