Much like a royal wedding, a Suffolk Commencement is a glorious mix of old and new. Students and faculty process in colorful regalia, a sartorial tradition that can be traced back to medieval times. The brass band plays Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches,” which date to the early 20th century.

Commencement also looks to the future, of course, most notably with the hundreds of excited students poised to begin a new chapter of their lives.

On a changeable May day on Boston Harbor, Suffolk University held its Commencement ceremonies for 2018. From Hana Abelkhalek all the way through Adam Scott Zeiger, 2,030 students were awarded degrees at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion—some crossed the stage to applause, some to wild cheers—all of them were carried along by the pride of family and friends sitting in the audience.

As flags fluttered on the edges of the stage and the clouds scudded across the sky, President Marisa Kelly, Dean William O’Neill, Jr., for the Sawyer Business School ceremony, Dean Maria Toyoda for the College of Arts & Sciences ceremony, and Dean Andrew Perlman for the Law School ceremony led the sometimes solemn, sometimes boisterous, always triumphant event. There were honorary degrees bestowed. There were recollections of years past. Most of all, there was an overwhelming feeling that this year’s degree recipients would go on to do incredible things.

Anecdotes and advice

Each school gave honorary degrees to distinguished recipients. The Business School honored Paul Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, who exhorted graduates to “be unreasonable” when they encountered the status quo.

The College bestowed a degree on Suffolk alumnus Timothy Phillips, founder and CEO of Beyond Conflict. Phillips credited Suffolk for giving him “a place to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged” and a “sense of belonging and community” that would serve as a foundation for the work he would go on to: easing conflict around the world.

And the Law School gave its honorary degree to Hon. Linda Stewart Dalianis, recently retired chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and a Suffolk University Law School alumna. Her advice? “Whenever you can make a difference to your fellow citizens, please seize the opportunity.”

Student speakers—Redona Marku and Boitshoko Phalatse for the Business School, Adrian Lambert for the College, and Charles Ferrara, Jr., for the Law School—exhorted their classmates to do great things, talked about the transitions they had made since coming to Suffolk, and thanked faculty, friends, and family for the support they’d received along the way.

Happy scholars, proud families

Inside the tents where graduates assembled before their march, the atmosphere was electric. As they jostled and swapped positions to ensure the right place in line, the almost-graduates took selfies and hugged friends. They showed off customized caps (“Work hard in silence. Let success make the noise.” “Dream high! Be bright!” “I is smart.”). And spectacularly, joyfully, they exulted in the moment.

In the audience, Dell Sian eagerly talked about his son Matthew and the job he will be continuing after Commencement. “It’s very exciting to be here today. It’s been a long and short four years,” Sian said with a laugh.

Another unidentified father quietly but proudly pointed out that his son, who was getting his MBA, was the first member of his family not only to get a master’s degree but even to graduate college.

The parents of one theater major summed up their emotions with a phrase that was heard again and again over the course of the day: “We’re so proud!”

Graduate student Priscilla Williams had friends in the audience who extolled her accomplishments: She was receiving two master’s degrees that day, one in political science and one in public administration, both with honors. She even attended both ceremonies. “Today is a landmark in regard to her own scholarship,” Williams’ friend said. “We’re really excited for her and everyone here.”

Despite the rain that appeared at the end of the second ceremony, all graduates were able to receive their degrees, reunite with friends and family, and show off their hoods, a strange and wonderful new accoutrement proudly worn for the first time.

As people moved on to celebratory lunches or dinners, with smiles and expressions of delight on everyone’s faces, it was easy to conclude that, while Commencement may be a mix of past and present, it truly is a timeless event.

—Ben Hall