Dressed in her cap and gown, Princess Dyer glanced round the large room as though she’d never been there before.
“It feels kind of like a wedding reception,” said Dyer, who is graduating from Northeastern this week with a degree in criminal justice and psychology.
She was referring to the students dancing as friends recorded videos to a DJ supplied beat, the arrangements of flowers and plantings, the stations that offered everything from popcorn to donuts to fresh fruit and cotton candy, and the extravagant centerpiece of wooden framing that served as a multi-faced bar for drinks hot and cold.
The large indoor space at Cabot Physical Education Center is serving this week as a hospitality area where graduates, family, and friends can meet around Commencement events.
What was striking about the scene Wednesday morning was its placement within this enormous and highly familiar space—where, for the preceding 21 months, Northeastern students like Dyer had submitted to COVID-19 testing.
Cabot’s dramatic transformation was as symbolic as it was practical. For graduating students, it signaled a momentous change from years of public-health uncertainty to the ongoing celebrations of Commencement.
“It’s kind of crazy how it went from something so negative to so positive—in the exact same space,” said Morgan Miovski, who was graduating with a degree in cell and molecular biology.
When Miovski visited Cabot for her first test, she sent a photo to her parents. This week she sent another photo. “They’re like, ‘This is the same space?'” she said.
The correlation couldn’t have been more obvious.
“Coming in here in the beginning, I’m sure it was really scary for a lot of students especially,” says Nicole Piscopio, the COVID-19 testing and collections operations manager since September 2020.
At that time, the aesthetics of the testing center were meant to address those anxieties. Visitors were greeted by larger-than-life banners that personified Northeastern’s response to the global health crisis.
Each banner featured a headshot of someone representing the Northeastern community, all adorned with face masks. The portraits were bold, strong, and colourful, like a collection of Andy Warhol prints. In a time of isolation, they conveyed a message of sharing the responsibility to keep everybody safe.
The downsizing of the testing center, which began last month, culminated Friday night with the removal of the banners. Eventually it will revert to its pre-pandemic purpose as an indoor track and baseball facility, its windows heavily netted against the batted balls.
In the meantime, the facility has been reinvented yet again—a metamorphosis that tends to bring out smiles from graduating students as they take into the new milieu.
“I really like the change,” Dyer said. “It definitely brightened my mood when we first walked in and saw all the plants and small details.”
“Now that I’m about to graduate,” said her friend, Jeriyla Kamau-Weng, who majored in marine biology, “I find it a very welcome change—almost back to normalcy. Of course we’re not back to normal. But it’s a great send-off for graduates.”
For many, the abrupt difference in environment offered yet another opportunity to put the past two years into perspective. It was a moment that each of the graduates had earned.
“It’s a really funny juxtaposition, and it’s really cool,” said Miovski in her cap and gown. “What Northeastern did to set it all up, it makes you feel so appreciated.”
“And celebrated,” said her friend, Kathryn DeAntonis, a nursing graduate.
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