Seven hundred people gathered at Matthews Arena last night to honor Dr. Joseph E. Aoun, the president of Northeastern University, as he received the Golden Door award from the International Institute of New England (IINE).

Dr. Aoun, a highly respected scholar, teacher, and academic innovator, spoke of his early days as a lonely and struggling graduate student at MIT. He recounted “wrestling” with English and having serious concerns about whether coming to America to study was the right choice.

“My teachers liberated me from self-doubt,” he said.

The welcome he received from his professors at MIT – including a number of memorable Thanksgiving dinner invitations – helped him feel more at home in Boston, then in California, when he took a teaching position at USC.

He said the ongoing welcome he received at every turn of his American journey taught him that the people around us have the greatest impact on our success.

“Every immigrant needs the support of a community,” Dr. Aoun said.

President Aoun’s remarks resonated with an audience of refugees and immigrants enrolled in IINE’s legal services, education, career, and resettlement programs as well as Northeastern students, business leaders and supporters.

Dr. Aoun praised the work of the International Institute and concluded his speech by inviting IINE clients to join him on stage. “I am proud and humbled to share this journey with you,” Aoun said.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Chairman, President and CEO, Jeff Leiden, who served as the Gala co-chair, praised IINE, President Aoun, and spoke about how Vertex embraces innovative ideas from people of all backgrounds.

“Vertex would not be the company it is today without immigrants,” he said.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, an alumnus of Northeastern raised in an immigrant neighborhood, said he was brought up to respect and value people from all over the world. He praised Dr. Aoun for infusing Northeastern with a multicultural spirit.

The evening included inspiring musical performances from the Northeastern University Choral Society singing “The Immigrant Experience” by composer John Kramer, and the university’s award winning a capella group.

More than 100 corporate and individual sponsors provided support to the event, which raised $800,000 for the International Institute of New England.

Dr. Aoun’s immigrant journey informs all aspects of his professional career. Watch this video for an overview of his life & philosophy.

Download President Aoun’s remarks

Good evening, it is a special honor for me to be here with you.
Alex and Rahmattulah, who are here tonight, came to this country as refugees and became clients of the Institute.
They gave me the following advice about my remarks.

Host Committee & Chairs

Jeff Leiden, Chairman, President and CEO, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
John Fish, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Suffolk Construction
Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Noubar Afeyan, Flagship Pioneering
Vivian Brocard, Issacson, Miller
Richard D’Amore, North Bridge Partners
Robert DiCenso
Deborah Dunsire, Lundbeck
Linda Pizzuti Henry, The Boston Globe
Amin Khoury, KLX Energy, Inc.
Jonathan Kraft, The Kraft Group
David H. Long, Liberty Mutual Insurance
Kevin McGovern, Deloitte
Henry Nasella, LNK Partners
Ed Pendergast, Dunn Rush & Co LLC
Kater Pendergast, Northeastern University
Andrew Plump, Takeda
Robert Reynolds, Putnam Investments
Michael Ringel, The Boston Consulting Group
Robert Rivers, Eastern Bank
Bill Sibold, Sanofi Genzyme
Joe Tucci, Dell EMC
Christopher Viehbacher, Gurnet Point Capital
Michel Vounatsos, Biogen

IINE Board of Directors

Zoltan Csimma, Chair
Jeffrey Thielman, President & CEO
Rita McDonough, CFO, Treasurer

Christina Bai, CollegeFindMe
Douglas Bailey, DB Media Strategies
Tara Chynoweth, Hologic Inc.
Ginger Gregory, Biogen
Avak Kahvejian, Flagship Pioneering
William Krause, Northern Trust
Dan Koh, HqO
Shari Loessberg, MIT
Bopha Malone, Enterprise Bank
Theo Melas-Kyriazi, Flagship Pioneering
Frederick Millham, South Shore Hospital
Deborah Shufrin, Brandeis University

Photo Credits:

Samson Baranga & John Bondlow