Berklee Grads Find Their Wings

The class of '08 follows the clarion call of music into the world.

It's a small irony that Berklee students, many of whom grew up skipping the sports field for the practice room, should graduate in a hockey and basketball arena. But music filled the stands on May 10 as the Berklee Faculty Brass Ensemble heralded the members of the class of '08, who looked both solemn and thrilled as they processed into the (ice-less) rink.

"The key is having courage: courage to jump off a cliff and find our wings on the way down, courage to be afraid, courage to trust our instincts, and courage to be ourselves."

—Student speaker
Carlos Delgado-Imbert '08

It was, as Larry Simpson, senior vice president for academic affairs, said, "a day of celebration and a day of victory."

After the traditional senior video, student speaker Carlos Delgado-Imbert, a music business/songwriting dual major, roused the graduates with an optimistic view of their future in the industry.

"The key is having courage: courage to jump off a cliff and find our wings on the way down, courage to be afraid, courage to trust our instincts, and courage to be ourselves," he said. "The music industry of today holds more promise than ever before, and it will keep getting better.... I trust Berklee talent."

The talent among the day's honorary doctorate recipients was awe-inspiring. Multi-award-winning composer Howard Shore '69 echoed Delgado-Imbert '08: "Trust your instinct, accept advice, emphasize differences, and above all: courage."

Rock legend Steve Winwood complimented the graduates. "I appreciate the incredibly high standard that this school has set, and I'm very happy and honored to be part of it," he said. "Berklee, you're a light. Keep on shining."

Brazilian folk/jazz master Rosa Passos choked up and said simply, "I am very honored to receive this degree. I love you all."

The biggest dose of wisdom came from honorary doctorate recipient Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire, who gave the commencement address. President Roger H. Brown introduced Bailey with a compliment: "I hope it doesn't rain today, because he performed here last night with our students and he tore the roof off this place."

Bailey started by turning the spotlight away from himself, thanking bandmates, teachers, family, and friends, notably fellow honoree Maurice White "for seeing something in this boy with a big dream and taking a big chance," Bailey said. "I honor you for your far-reaching vision, for the dignity with which you have carried yourself, and for the respect that you have always shown for our profession."

Why mention so many people? "None of us, no matter how intelligent or talented or creative or well-connected ever makes it all by himself. Rather, each of us stands on the shoulders of great men and women who have walked before us," Bailey said, urging graduates to hold on to the relationships they'd developed at Berklee.

Those people aren't just business contacts. Berklee graduates share the special ability to hear something in music that others don't, Bailey said, messages more meaningful than just notes and rhythms. Playing his first saxophone—his mother's curtain rod—"I heard it even back then. And I sounded like Bird, I sounded like 'Trane and Cannonball rolled into one," he said. "Once I heard the music calling me I knew there could never be any turning back."

Beyond pure creativity, income, and the ability to reach others, music has taught him to strive for consistency, keep learning, be versatile, and refuse to set limits on his potential.

He concluded, "Never lose your creativity, never lose your excitement, never lose your pure love for music—and years from now wherever life may have taken you, whatever you may be doing for a living, you'll still be hearing the music too."

President Brown departed from the script to address the graduates briefly, many of whom came to Berklee at the same time he did, four years ago.

"Embrace the next big steps of your career and your life. And remember this: we will continue to believe in you even at the times when you stop believing in yourself. We will support you even when your path takes an unexpected turn. We will honor you regardless of whether or not the world measures you as a commercial success. And we will quietly celebrate as your perseverance, your tenacity, your integrity, and your creativity deliver you to that place you were destined to be."

After all the classes, practices, studio sessions, papers, and performances, it was time for the coda for Berklee's class of 2008, who stood to receive their degrees.

Advice from some of the new honorary doctors of music

Rosa Passos: "Take music very seriously. Always study. Always try to get better and overcome all the difficulties."

Howard Shore '69: "Talent is important. But the will to learn and the desire to succeed is even stronger, and hard work and perseverance is the key to success."

Steve Winwood: "On what I've seen last night of the students, I should probably be asking them for advice because… with this degree of talent, the only advice I can really give is 'keep it up.'" When prodded, he added: "In this day and age really it's flexibility—to be able to move into different areas of the music business… That said, there's always room for the virtuoso."

Danielle Dreilinger is a writer/editor in Berklee's Office of Communications.