Preparing the Class of 2022 to Tell Its Story

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President Roger H. Brown addresses entering students at the September 2 convocation.

On September 2, leaders from Berklee and Boston Conservatory at Berklee welcomed the class of 2022 at the annual convocation in the Berklee Performance Center. The theme of the event was: “Tell Your Own Story.”

In his opening remarks, president Roger H. Brown gave a bit of the story of the entering class. He shared that the new students hail from 101 different countries with the largest number coming from China, followed by South Korea, Canada, Colombia, and Italy. The largest cohort of American students come from California, followed by those from Massachusetts, New York, and Florida. With enthusiasm, Brown announced, “For the first time in the history of the college, this class is made up of 42 percent women and the conservatory has more than 50 percent women. We’re going to have a lot of great female energy in this institution this year. We are really glad you’re here.”

The theme of the convocation, “Tell Your Story,” Brown explained, “is to inspire you to imagine being an artist who can express yourself in an authentic way, and tell your story, not try to imitate someone else’s story.”

Brown was the first of four college executives to share a bit of their personal stories. Brown spoke of growing up in Georgia and playing drums in various bands from middle school through college, and even shared rejection letters sent to him by the Elektra/Asylum and Arista record labels. After graduating from Davidson College, he taught science and math in Kenya. Following graduate studies at Yale, he and his future wife, Linda Mason, served refugees in Cambodia and Sudan. Brown and Mason later founded Bright Horizons Family Solutions, offering early childhood education programs in America, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2005, he became Berklee’s third president.

He summed up the lessons of his own career by saying that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line—in two-dimensional space. “But we live in a three-dimensional world with hills, valleys, rivers, and mountains,” Brown stated. “Often the shortest distance between two points in this three-dimensional world is the long and winding road. My career has been a long and winding road.” He related that seemingly unrelated things he did prepared him for his current job.

“You don’t know how what you do tomorrow will prepare you for what you may be doing in 30 years,” Brown said. “Do it with all your heart, vigor, passion, and commitment, and my promise to you is that your long and winding road will lead to where you are supposed to be.”

Other leaders shared parts of their stories, including Cathy Young, executive director for Boston Conservatory at Berklee; Betsy Newman, Berklee’s senior vice president for student enrollment and engagement; and Larry Simpson, senior vice president for academic affairs/provost. After describing episodes from her journey, Young told the students, “If you can’t go right, go left, if you can’t go straight, go around, and if someone tells you you’ll never make it in this field, don’t listen to them. And don’t be afraid of wrong turns. They may lead you somewhere more wonderful than you ever imagined.”

Student performances were interspersed between speakers. Selections included a Latin-jazz instrumental by Sheila del Bosque Fuentes (flute), Camila Cortina Bello (piano), and Takafumi Nikaido (congas). Conservatory students Brittany Brown, John Chin, and Tyeri Morrison danced to the solo piano piece “Written on the Sky,” and Daniel Reifsteck played an original piece on solo vibes. Closing the evening was Common Cents, a nine-piece band led by guitarist William Nelson, featuring vocalist Malaya Watson. They played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and an original instrumental titled “Breathe.”

On September 7, College and Conservatory leaders gathered with faculty and staff members at the Sheraton Boston Hotel for Opening Day 2018, a program of speakers and musicians. Larry Simpson spoke of the recently concluded negotiation of a three-year faculty contract that includes a commitment to convert 30 faculty members to full-time status.

In his remarks, president Brown shared aspirations for the year ahead. He mentioned creating access, affordability, and success opportunities for students. On a macro level, he said, “My admonition in this world—this ball of confusion—is that within our community of 6,000, let’s try to treat each other with compassion and respect.” He advocated showing a heightened compassion toward all. “If as teachers, students, staff members, and leaders, we can model it for the world, that’s the most important thing we can do to address the swirling confusion of the larger world we live in. So welcome back, I hope you have a great year. I’m excited about it.”