“Each one of us has a similar story to tell. Each one of us is, in some way, an immigrant”, Joseph E. Aoun, President of Northeastern University told the crowd.
Aoun received the 38th annual Golden Door Award from the International Institute of New England. A native of Lebanon, Aoun was honoured this award for his contributions to the U.S. society. He talked about how he realised his own purpose and why he relates to all the students he meets, whether they have been driven to pursue their dreams at Northeastern from another corner of the world, or a mere few stops on the subway. The committee cited Northeastern’s expansion of experiential learning to 146 countries and its network of seven campuses in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. while presenting the award.
The evening offered Aoun the opportunity to tell his story as an immigrant who earned a diploma of advanced studies in general and theoretical linguistics at the University of Paris in the 1970s, while a civil war was ravaging his homeland of Lebanon. When he enrolled at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he experienced isolation like never before. He was able to understand only about 10% of the English he heard there. Watching his transformation, his roommate, Morris Halle, persuaded him and his wife, to resettle at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Here, Aoun served as the inaugural holder of the Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair at the College of Letters. In 2006, Aoun returned to Boston as the seventh president of Northeastern University. Thomas M. Menino, the legendary mayor, encouraged Aoun to explore his new community.
The evening started with a performance by the Northeastern University Choral Society of “The Immigrant Experience,” a powerful cantata by John Kramer that established the spirit of the occasion. Aoun’s story served to embody that spirit. Aoun summed up the lesson of his life’s journeys, which have altogether influenced his leadership at Northeastern:
“Immigration is displacement. Intellectually, culturally or physically, every one of us has experienced what it means to feel displaced”, he concluded.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman