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.