Northern Essex Community College graduate Ember Spera delivers the student speaker address a week from Saturday at the college’s 61st Annual Commencement.
Spera, who is also receiving a certificate in American Sign Language interpreting, is already experienced interpreting for large audiences. Spera interpreted the National Anthem on Red Sox 2023 Opening Day and for several Boston University events.
Spera’s parents both attended Northern Essex, and their father earned his associate degree in computer science in 1999. Spera’s parents are deaf, and initially, Spera was interested in studying interpreting. After all, American Sign Language was Spera’s first language. After graduating from Innovations Academy Charter School in 2014, Spera spent a semester at Emmanuel College before realizing it wasn’t the right fit. Spera then enrolled at Northern Essex in January 2015.
“The professors described what it takes to be an interpreter, and I thought, ‘I’ve already done this. I want to try something else,’” Spera says. Professor Amy Callahan, now dean of Liberal Arts, encouraged Spera to pursue a journalism degree as well.
Spera graduated in 2016 with an associate degree in liberal arts and earned an associate degree in communication/journalism in the summer of 2017. Spera transferred to UMass Amherst, ultimately graduating with a bachelor’s in journalism.
While graduating from Northern Essex again is cause for celebration, Spera says being chosen as commencement speaker presents another opportunity for a full circle moment. In 2014, Spera was selected to speak at their high school graduation, but the interpreter for the event didn’t show.
“I had this moment of heartbreak. I’m giving a speech, and the people that I want to hear it the most are my parents, and I didn’t get that. So, I signed the speech later at home, but it wasn’t the same. So, this really does feel like a second chance. And I know that we will have plenty of interpreters on hand.”
Spera was nominated for student speaker by Kevin Fleese, program coordinator for the ASL certificate program. Nominations were solicited from the college community and submitted to a committee of faculty and staff who selected Spera.
Commencement ceremonies take place Saturday, May 13, at 11 a.m., on the college’s Haverhill Campus.