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President Emeritus Curry recalls favorite commencement
From the pages of The Northeastern University Voice (June 2002)
Version 1

By Joe O'Shea

Former President Bill Clinton's visit to Northeastern University's 1993 Commencement was big.

Really big.

How big? Perhaps it's best to let president emeritus Jack Curry answer that question.

"I told [former government relations vice president] Tom Keady that if he were ever to hear from the president, come find me, wherever I was," recalls Curry. "Well, I was at the Cabot Gym taking a shower after doing a little road running. Tom burst into the shower, gave me a bear hug and yelled, 'We won!'"

During Curry's seven-year tenure as president, the university entertained former First Lady Barbara Bush, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former President of Poland Lech Walesa and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld as commencement guests. "It was a wonderful time for Northeastern, because we were able to draw to our commencements people of world renown, which spoke volumes for Northeastern's development," says Curry, the first Northeastern alumnus to be named president.

But of the countless commencements Curry has witnessed during his four decades at Northeastern, the Clinton Commencement was his most memorable.

"By far, it will be the commencement that I will always remember," says Curry. "It was a defining moment for the university because it proved our uniqueness and coming of age as an institution.

"The president of the United States chose to speak at Northeastern from among hundreds of invitations that year. He believed in our mission of practice-oriented education, of students working their way through college."

One such student was Doug Luffborough, the student speaker that year, who opened his remarks by belting out the "Day-o, day-ay-ay-o" verse from the "Banana Boat Song."

"Doug spoke about what Northeastern had meant to him, how his mother had supported him through college," says Curry. "This got Clinton enthused because he also was brought up by his mother. So he built an affinity for Doug right away."

During Luffborough's "impassioned" speech, Clinton calmly scribbled new notes, incorporating Luffborough and his mother into his 19-minute address. It was his second editing of the speech since arriving at the sauna-like Boston Garden. "I was amazed at the intelligence of the man," says Curry, "that he could speak after improvising last-minute changes."

Curry remembers Clinton's "great emphasis on Northeastern being his kind of institution, because our students were working their way through college on the co-op plan. He was fascinated with Northeastern because of our emphasis on practice-oriented education."

In the years following the 1993 commencement, Curry was frequently invited to the White House to support Clinton's AmeriCorps public service initiative. Since both left their respective presidencies, they have maintained contact. "We've built somewhat of a small friendship," says Curry. "He often says how our commencement was one of his favorites."