Doctors of Songwriting
Imagine that you are a graduating senior at Any College, U.S.A. You're sitting in a crowded auditorium, wearing the cap and gown, thinking about the four years of hard work and happy times that are coming to a close, wondering about the unknown future that lies in front of you. And for some reason the lyrics of a song pop into your head: "And tomorrow, we might not be together... these are the good old days." You look over at the podium, and there, on stage, singing those exact words, is pop icon Carly Simon, wearing a cap and gown that looks a bit like your own. Are you dreaming? Maybe watching VH-1? No, you're a member of the 1998 Berklee College of Music graduating class, and, yes, that really is Carly Simon up there.
For the 535 graduating seniors and 3,000 guests at Berklee's Commencement in May, Simon's impromptu a cappella version of "Anticipation" provided an apt finale to years of study and a weekend of celebration. It also reminded everyone there of why Simon's songs have touched so many fans and why, ultimately, Berklee gave her an honorary Doctor of Music degree.
Simon and her co-honorees, the hitmaking songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, have created some of the music industry's most recognized songs of the past several decades. Simon's string of top-10 hits include "You're So Vain," "Nobody Does it Better," and "That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be."
Leiber and Stoller have penned hits since the 1950s, including "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Stand By Me," and "On Broadway." The team's songs have been performed by a long list of popular music legends, including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ben E. King. Unfortunately, Leiber and Stoller were unable to attend Commencement due to illnesses.
"Recognizing the inherent value in our relationships...is ultimately the final step in our never-ending music education"
—Gary King, Student Commencement Speaker
A 15-piece student orchestra and 14 vocalists paid tribute to the three honorees at the Commencement Concert in the Berklee Performance Center on May 1, performing rousing renditions from their songbooks. Just before the concert ended, Simon left her seat and joined the students in a version of "Let the River Run," an award-winning song she wrote for the 1988 movie, Working Girl.
Several luminaries, including Ben E. King, U.S. Senator John Kerry, and singer/songwriter and Berklee faculty member Livingston Taylor, also paid tribute to the honorees during the concert, weighing in with praise and warm wishes delivered via videotape. Storied producer, songwriter and performer Al Kooper, also a member of the Berklee faculty, accepted the honorary degrees for Leiber and Stoller.
"I always saw Jerry and Mike as beacons in the distance to strive for and emulate," Kooper said after accepting the awards from Berklee President Lee Eliot Berk.
Students Take Center Stage on Graduation Day
Graduating senior vocalist Gary King, from American Samoa, not only performed during the tribute concert, he also delivered the first-ever student speech at the next morning's commencement ceremony.
"Recognizing the inherent value in our relationships and friendships with people is truly and ultimately the final step in our never-ending musical education," said King in the conclusion of his address.
Another highlight of the day was a slide presentation focusing on student life at Berklee, with a narration written and delivered by graduating student Katie Miner, from Wichita Falls, Tex.