Fenway Park to host commencements for 2 Boston universities

Suffolk and Northeastern opt for outdoor ceremonies, where guests will be limited but the experience second to none.
By: | March 23, 2021
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The Boston Red Sox are only allowing 12% capacity for baseball games this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, when a pair of Boston universities recently announced they would take over Fenway Park during the season, the news was met with surprise, joy and relief by students and families.

The two downtown universities – Suffolk and Northeastern – are planning to host several commencement ceremonies during May that will feature social distancing, limited guests and All-Star lineups of speakers.

“Fenway Park is one of Boston’s most iconic symbols, not only for those who live here, but also for people across the nation and around the globe,” said Marisa Kelly, President of Suffolk University. “Suffolk is the quintessential downtown Boston university, and like Fenway, we are of Boston, but our reach extends far beyond it. I can think of no better venue to celebrate our place in the city, and our students’ accomplishments in the face of adversity, than in this wonderful Boston landmark.”

Suffolk is planning two ceremonies – one each for May 22 and 23 for its 2020 and 2021 graduates – while Northeastern, a university with about 30,000 full-time and part-time undergrads and grad students, will be hosting five events at the stadium, which is just down the street from its campus.

“Our graduate students made their voices heard,” David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for student affairs said in a letter to the Northeastern University community. “Their desire to celebrate commencement together, in person, is abundantly clear.”

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How the ceremonies will work

Because of COVID-19 public health guidance, capacity within Fenway Park will be limited.

For Suffolk, that means each student from the College of Arts & Sciences, Sawyer Business School and Law School will be allowed to have three quests attend the ceremonies. Northeastern students likely will be allowed to have at least one guest, though complete capacity has not been determined yet. Its ceremonies will be live-streamed for those who cannot attend in person.

Northeastern’s students will sit socially distanced on the outfield turf and in the stands. All participants, including faculty and leaders, will need to complete a health screening form that attests they are in good health and have followed COVID-19 protocols before attending, according to the university.

In the past, Suffolk has held its graduation ceremonies at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion outdoor amphitheater in South Boston. Northeastern has traditionally held its ceremonies at the TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics though it has held graduate ceremonies at its indoor campus stadium Matthews Arena, the oldest multi-purpose athletic facility in the world.

The move to Fenway Park allows for a safe outdoor venue for the ceremonies to continue. One other institution has also opted for an outdoor commencement – Boston University is planning to host its ceremonies May 16 at its on-campus Nickerson Field but with only graduates, no guests allowed to attend. Several others have already made the call to go virtual – Harvard, MIT, Emerson and the Berklee College of Music. Boston College has still not released plans for its scheduled May 24 ceremony.

Speaking of ceremonies …

Many of the speakers have not been announced at individual commencements, but one that has been confirmed is Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, who will speak at Boston University’s ceremony.

Suffolk has put together quite a lineup of leaders who will address graduating students at Fenway Park. They include:

  • Marty Baron, the longtime executive editor of the Washington Post and Boston Globe who won six Pulitzer prizes and oversaw coverage of the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in Boston
  • Karen DeSalvo, a Suffolk grad who is now chief health officer at Google. She also was a leader in health care in the state of Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and was acting assistant secretary for health under president Barack Obama
  • Serge Georges Jr., a graduate of Suffolk Law School who is only the fourth Black person to serve on the 328-year-old Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
  • Carmen Ortiz, a partner in the law firm Anderson & Kreiger who was U.S. district attorney for Massachusetts and helped lead the prosecution of Whitey Bulger and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber
  • Dorothy Savarese, chief executive of Cape Cod 5 bank and one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, according to American Banker.

“These are all accomplished leaders who embody Suffolk University’s values and whose work is especially powerful and relevant during these challenging times,” Kelly said. “We are honored to have each of them offer words of inspiration as we celebrate the accomplishments of these deserving graduates.”

For Suffolk students who will take part in commencement at one of the most historic ballparks with a chance to hear from those leaders – when it appeared they might not have any live ceremony at all – it should be a memorable event.

“In the face of a pandemic that has taken a very heavy toll, Suffolk students have managed to persevere and pursue their educational and personal goals,” Kelly said.  “Perhaps more than ever, our 2020 and 2021 graduates deserve the opportunity to walk across that stage and reflect back on what they have accomplished and where they are going from here.”