For Northeastern University undergraduate commencement student speaker Clara Wu, the goal is to be relatable, genuine, and to impart some sage advice. So, she took the advice of two relatable, genuine and sage people in her life: her grandpa Carl and the late grandpa Wu Chengkang.
“Who am I to give advice?” Wu asks, laughing. “This is legit grandpa advice. They’re wise grandpas.”
Wu will deliver her speech during undergraduate commencement exercises at Fenway Park at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 7.
While her grandfathers surely appreciate the gesture, Wu—a behavioral neuroscience major—may be selling herself a little short. Her success at Northeastern is plenty inspiring. Originally from the Bay Area of California, Wu says she was attracted to Northeastern by its size, its proximity to the hospitals of Boston and, of course, its co-ops.
“I wanted to get started doing stuff,” Wu says.
She took advantage of the opportunity. She completed four co-ops as an undergraduate. She split her time in spring 2021 between working as a newborn hearing screener at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and as a clinical research assistant focusing on pediatric stroke victims in the Boston Children’s Hospital neurology department. She worked at George Mark Children’s House in San Leandro, California, as a pediatric palliative care assistant for the first part of the spring 2022 semester, then she headed to Tubingen University Hospital in Germany where she observed neurosurgery and shadowed staff in neuropediatric clinics—as well as ate a lot of gelatos.
The experiences solidified her interest in neuroscience, which she first encountered as a high school student while attending a summer lecture series. She knew she wanted to continue to explore the subject at Northeastern.
“Everything we do, I can link to something physically happening in my brain,” Wu says. “Everyday stuff, you can see how it works because of neuroscience. It’s the science of everything.”
The co-ops also confirmed her interest in medicine. She says she is in the process of applying to medical schools for fall 2024.
Interestingly, three out of four of the co-op experiences resulted from her emailing collaborators out of the blue.
“I’m glad I did, because these were very specific things I wanted to go for,” Wu says.
“If you’re someone who advocates for yourself, a go-getter, you will do well at Northeastern,” Wu continues. “It’s (an attribute) I always had, but Northeastern gave me an opportunity to use it to my advantage.”
She also used this attribute to her advantage in her extracurricular activities.
“Hands-down the single best experience I had at Northeastern was co-founding the fencing team,” Wu says. “We’re now going to tournaments, killing it at tournaments, and there’s a real sense of community … that community is a home for people.”
Wu also practices her Spanish language skills at the weekly Hora del Café, a Spanish-speaking coffee hour at the Latinx Student Center, and practicing American Sign Language at the ASL and Interpreting Education Program signing lunches.
“There’s these pockets of interesting people at Northeastern,” Wu says.
And these people are among the things Wu says she’ll miss when she graduates.
“I’ll miss the friends, being on campus,” Wu says. “When it’s actually a sunny day in Boston, you go out on Centennial [Common], inevitably the shirtless juggler will be there … there’s the college vibe of a campus, and when it’s a sunny day, especially after a long winter at Northeastern, you can’t beat it.”
But before she gets to feelings of nostalgia, Wu has a big speech to deliver.
“It’s a really, really huge honor,” Wu says. “I don’t know if I can even wrap my mind around it yet because it’s a very big deal. It’s a lot of people.”
But Wu says her high-school debate team skills will come in handy. And she knows she’ll have lots of support: in fact, her grandpa Carl will be among her family members in attendance.
“I’m looking forward to it, even though I’m stressed,” Wu says. “After it’s over, I will feel immensely proud that I did it.”
And although Wu originally dismissed the notion that she could offer any advice, she does have a message that she hopes people take from her speech.
“I’m excited, and I hope people will really think about listening to the grandfatherly advice I hand out,” Wu says. “If you have a grandparent who you can still talk to, or any older person, they’ve been through some stuff.”