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Estefans, Hill, and the Edge Celebrate with 884 Grads

 
  From the left: Joanne Robinson Hill, Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Roger Brown, and the Edge
  Photos by Phil Farnsworth

Berklee's 2007 commencement broke all previous records, with a total of 884 graduates receiving sheepskins. As well, honorary doctorates were bestowed upon Latin music superstars Gloria and Emilio Estefan, U2 guitarist the Edge, and the late jazz pianist/composer Andrew Hill.

Both the May 11 concert and the May 12 commencement ceremony took place at Boston University's Agganis Arena. On Friday night, the excitement at the concert was palpable as the Estefans and the Edge took in a musical tribute to them and to Andrew Hill. Hill had planned to attend the commencement events but passed away unexpectedly on April 20. His wife, Joanne Robinson Hill, attended in his place.

 
Gloria Estefan singing her hit "Out of the Dark" with the student ensemble.  

The show opened with a pair of upbeat songs by Gloria Estefan. Singers Evan Baughman, Nadine Ford, Wendy Lewis, and Jessica Wolfe shared vocal chores on "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," which was followed by Sabreen Staples singing "Let's Get Loud." At the outset of the show, master of ceremonies Rob Rose prepared the audience for an eclectic program, and the concert delivered on that promise. With three jazz selections penned by Andrew Hill, six U2 songs, and nine tunes recorded or written by Gloria Estefan or produced by Emilio Estefan, the program covered a lot of stylistic territory.

Most memorable among the Hill pieces was the jazz waltz "Black Fire," which featured Blue Note recording artist and saxophonist Greg Osby '83 in a cameo appearance. Among the highlights of the U2 songs were the folksy "Van Diemen's Land," with vocals by Meg O'Brien and Jessica Wolfe; "Where the Streets Have No Name," sung by Rebecca Muir; and "Electrical Storm," which opened with an electronic soundscape created by laptop artist Anthony Baldino, followed by a vocal rendition by Tara Sarmov.

 
  Gloria Estefan told the grads: "Go forward with a lot of belief. We are all capable of doing what we truly believe in."

The music by the Estefans, sung in both Spanish and English, offered the 25 lead and background vocalists many opportunities to shine. Thanks to great arrangements and musical directing by the Yo Team staff, the 17-piece string section, numerous horn and rhythm section players, and a five-member dance troupe, Estefan's ballads and salsa songs became impressive production numbers. Gloria Estefan thrilled the student musicians and the audience when she took the stage for the tune "Coming Out of the Dark." U2's anthemic rock song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" closed the show in a musical triumph for the 76 performers and numerous support staff who made the tribute so memorable.

The next morning, clad in mortarboards and gowns, the graduates filed into the arena for the commencement ceremony. After the processional and greetings, student speaker Nakia Simon shared observations on her Berklee experience with the audience. A humorous video tribute to the class of 2007 prompted Gloria Estefan, this year's commencement speaker, to begin her remarks by asking, "How do you follow that?"

 
Tara Sarmov sings U2's "Electrical Storm."  

Estefan spoke about her family and her early years and offered encouraging words to the graduates now preparing to enter the music business. "I came from a long line of musicians," Estefan told the assembled audience. "Music was always my escape, my way of laughing, crying-a healing force in my life. It's an awesome privilege to make music. Being a musician is a beautiful way to live your life. Go forward with a lot of belief. We are all capable of doing what we truly believe in."

Accepting the honorary degree on behalf of her late husband, Joanne Hill said: "It was Andrew's intention to be here with you today. At his memorial service, one of his friends, Chris White, said to me, 'Andrew was a great artist, but he was an even greater man.' I want to encourage you, as you commence your new lives, to always consider who you are as an artist and also as a person."

 
  From the left: Mirsad "Cuni" Besic '07, Kristopher Thiele, the Edge, and Shai Shaashua '07 share a moment after the commencement concert.

After receiving his honorary degree, the Edge emphasized to the graduates the importance of seeking their own musical voice. "To find your own voice, you have to abandon the official map and go into uncharted territory," he counseled. "Learn to trust your own instincts and personal tastes above all else." He also encouraged the students to seek collaborators. "Collaboration with talented people is not easy, but it's essential. It's the way to really shine brighter than you ever could on your own."

Emilio Estefan shared recollections of his early struggles to make headway in the music business. "Everything was against us as Latinos," he said. "We were told it would never work, but Gloria and I wanted to make it with the sound that comes from our heritage. Try to make your own sound-and don't forget where you came from. Even though I've won 14 Grammys, this is a day I will never forget. Thank you so much for this great honor."