Steely Dan, Larry Linkin and William Davis honored at Berklee College of Music's 2001 Graduation

By
Rob Hochschild
May 12, 2001

A total of 639 graduates from some 50 countries received degrees today at Berklee College of Music's 2001 Commencement, held at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston. Honorary doctor of music degrees were presented during the ceremony to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of the influential rock group Steely Dan; Larry R. Linkin, president and CEO of NAMM; and William M. Davis, retiring chairman of Berklee's Board of Trustees.

Linkin delivered the commencement address to the graduating class and over 3,000 guests in attendance. For over two decades, Linkin has served as president and CEO of NAMM, the International Music Products Association, and is regarded as one of the country's foremost supporters of music and the arts. He will be stepping down as NAMM president at the end of May.

In his address, Linkin urged graduates to be strong advocates for music education. "Music and its role in society is changing and we must change with it. We must focus our vision to help society realize the important positive effect that music has on all age groups," Linkin said. "Music, above all other arts, is the universal language of our global community. Music for every child is the very foundation ensuring world peace. Music does make the difference."

After receiving their honorary doctor of music degrees, Steely Dan's Walter Becker and Donald Fagen briefly thanked the graduates. Fagen spoke first, saying, "This is a great thing, especially from a music college. We've gotten a few other various honorariums this year, but this is the best for us, because it comes from musicians and a musical college. To the graduating class, I just want to say, from a blues verse from Mose Allison, 'When you move up to the city, there's just one thing I hope / When you move up to the city, there's just one thing I hope / You don't take money from a woman / and don't start messin' around with dope.'"

Walter Becker said, "This is a great honor for both of us. And if I had any advice based on my career so far, that would be worth sharing with you, it would be two things. Number one: As you go into your musical careers, people will try to refocus you on their goals and their artistic aspirations. And it's always best to stay focused on your own. It's the only shortcut that really is available. And Number two: The blues. Playing the blues. Play the blues -- it works over everything."

Steely Dan is widely considered one of the seminal rock bands to emerge during the 1970s. Among their many hits are the songs "Do It Again," "Reelin' In The Years," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," and "My Old School." Steely Dan's most recent album "Two Against Nature" received four Grammy Awards in 2001, including Album of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a group or Duo With Vocals, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Engineered Album/Non Classical. And in April 2001, Becker and Fagen were recognized for their unique contribution to the rock canon with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Also honored during the commencement ceremony was William M. Davis, senior vice president of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. Davis has been a member of the college's Board of Trustees since 1977 and has served as chair of the board since 1992. He will be stepping down this year. He was presented with the honorary doctorate in acknowledgement of his contributions to Berklee's growth and ongoing commitment to educational excellence.

Student speaker Nick Yk-ngai Cheung, of Boston, winner of the student commencement speech contest, also addressed the graduates and their guests. And student composer Zachary Ryan, of Simi Valley, California, winner of the commencement composition contest, wrote the music played during the ceremonial procession.

The night before commencement, graduating student musicians performed a tribute concert for the honorees, featuring the music of Steely Dan. "Do It Again," "Hey Nineteen," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," and the Grammy-winning "Cousin Dupree" were among the songs played for a packed house of graduates, parents and music industry figures. All the honorees, including Becker and Fagen, attended this special tribute at the college's Berklee Performance Center. The concert was webcast worldwide on Berklee's website, where it will be archived for future viewing.

Also during the commencement concert, student Alisa Miles '01 was presented with one of the college's most prestigious awards, the Billboard Endowed Scholarship, which was presented by Billboard Magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Timothy White. In his remarks, White challenged the assembled students to make a difference in the world, by being willing to "be the last good person," and to "stay lonely in your ideals." "If you do," he continued, "there is no force on earth that can stop them from becoming a reality."

Alisa Miles, from Richmond, Virginia, is a talented vocalist and dual major in Music Education and Music Business. Commenting on her success since transferring to Berklee and receiving the Billboard honor, she said, "I just decided I was going to go through any door that opened to me." Miles kept the honor a secret from her parents, who could not attend, so they would learn the news while watching the concert webcast.

Founded in 1945, Berklee College of Music recently completed its 56th year of advancing careers in contemporary music. The world's largest independent college of music, Berklee has a multicultural enrollment of nearly 3,400 students, 35 percent of whom are international. The college's alumni include Quincy Jones, Joe Lovano, Diana Krall, Branford Marsalis, Gary Burton, Paula Cole, Bill Frisell, and a host of other major figures in contemporary music.