Berklee Honors Ledisi, Q-Tip, and Gilberto Santa Rosa at Commencement

This year's honorary doctorate recipients were recognized for their profound influence as artists, educators, and activists.

May 11, 2024

More than 1,300 graduates from 64 countries and 49 US states came together to celebrate at the Agganis Arena in Boston for Berklee College of Music’s 2024 commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 11. At the event, Berklee Interim Executive Vice President Betsy Newman presented honorary doctorates to three iconic artists: Grammy-winning R&B singer and songwriter Ledisi, Grammy-winning hip-hop artist and producer Q-Tip, and Grammy- and Latin Grammy–winning bandleader and sonero Gilberto Santa Rosa. 

The annual commencement concert took place the previous evening at the Agganis and featured a cast of over 200 graduating students from more than 40 countries. Many of Berklee’s most talented vocalists, instrumentalists, arrangers, track producers, dancers, and visual artists paid tribute to the honorees by performing a selection of their biggest hits, including Ledisi’s “Pieces of Me,” Q-Tip’s “Vivrant Thing,” and Santa Rosa’s “Perdóname.” Ledisi took the stage for a special performance of the gospel song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” and Santa Rosa sang with students in a rendition of “Que Alguien Me Diga.”

Q-Tip on stage with student artists at Berklee's commencement concert

Q-Tip poses on stage with student artists at Berklee's commencement concert.

Dave Green

Ledisi, an artist in residence at the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice since 2022, was recognized for her significant influence on soul and R&B, for her impact on future generations of musicians, and for her work beyond the stage, advocating on Capitol Hill for the rights of writers and performers.

In addressing the graduating class, Ledisi spoke from her heart, sharing several guiding principles that have shaped her, including resilience, faith, and belief in oneself. She said that throughout her career she'd been told “that I wasn’t pretty enough, you’ll never make it, and I’m still here.” Ledisi explained how she channeled that pain into writing a song that earned her a first Grammy nomination. Concluding her speech, she reminded the graduates: “Never let the world tell you who you are. You tell them who you are.”

Ledisi performs at Berklee's commencement concert

Ledisi performs "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at Berklee's commencement concert.

Dave Green

Q-Tip, a founding emcee and producer of A Tribe Called Quest and a pivotal figure in early hip-hop culture, was honored for his forward-thinking artistic vision, which merges rap, jazz, and other styles with socially conscious lyrics, as well as for his impact as a producer, actor, educator, and cultural ambassador.

Relating his thoughts on the current state of the world and the essential need for creative expression and innovation, Q-Tip offered poetic words of advice to the graduating class: “To choose this path [of the artist] is a courageous choice indeed. You are handed the task to be courageous in your personal lives, to find balance between intellect and instinct . . . to not let bad choices define you, but to refine you.” He also emphasized the importance of celebrating personal accomplishments, which he said are like "precious mantras . . . to remind you that you are worthy, and that you can do it. You got this!”

Gilberto Santa Rosa is one of the most decorated and commercially successful artists in Latin music, with five Latin Grammys and a 2021 Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Known as "El Caballero de la Salsa" (the Gentleman of Salsa), Santa Rosa was acknowledged for breaking down barriers for Latin musicians.

Addressing the audience in English and Spanish, Santa Rosa reflected on his early dreams of becoming a musician and expressed gratitude for the opportunities and people who helped him bring the music of Puerto Rico to the world. Speaking to the graduating class about the commencement concert, Santa Rosa said, “Watching you from here, after what I heard last night, I am sure that good music is in the best of hands.”

Gilberto Santa Rosa performs "Que Alguien Me Diga" at Berklee's commencement concert

Gilberto Santa Rosa performs "Que Alguien Me Diga" at Berklee's commencement concert.

Dave Green

This year’s faculty speech was delivered by Scarlet Keys, a professor in the Songwriting Department, who talked about the concept of hope and the importance of remaining optimistic even in the face of daunting and unforeseen challenges. “There will be times when you doubt yourself . . . and on those days I want you to remember the poem from Sean Thomas Dougherty: ‘There is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.’ The world needs your songs and it needs the words only you can write, and you have an obligation to share your talent.”

Addressing her fellow classmates, student speaker Alexandria Han, a music education major from Busan, South Korea, spoke about the indispensable knowledge she gained from being a part of a global community of artists. “Berklee isn’t just a school,” said Han. “It's a microcosm of the world we aspire to create—one where diversity is celebrated, differences are embraced, and unity is forged through the universal language of music.”

This year’s honorary doctorate recipients were celebrated for cementing a place in popular culture as artistic innovators, unique creators, and community advocates who continue to connect and inspire global audiences everywhere. Past recipients from the college include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Celine Dion, B.B. King, Quincy Jones ’51, esperanza spalding B.M. ’05, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie, Missy Elliot, Carole King, Willie Nelson, George Clinton, Annie Lennox, Gloria Estefan, Lalah Hathaway ’90, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, and Smokey Robinson.

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