A Snapshot of Five Students from Berklee's Class of 2018
This Saturday, the next vanguard of performing-arts innovators and culture-makers will graduate from Berklee.
In the early afternoon at Agganis Arena, Berklee College of Music will award 1,082 people with a bachelor's or master's degree, or a professional diploma. Later that day, in the Berklee Performance Center, Boston Conservatory at Berklee will present 212 people with undergraduate or graduate degrees.
The college's class of 2018 is highly international, with 72 nationalities represented, and features a healthy cross section of the country, with residents from 38 states and Puerto Rico among them.
They also span a range of disciplines, from music business to dance to education. Here are a few of their stories, in brief.
Justin Graceffa, B.M.
Music Business, Berklee Online
Justin Graceffa, from Hudson, Massachusetts, attended Berklee College of Music as an undergraduate from 2005–2007, where he studied guitar and dreamed of performing on stage in front of crowds all over the world; however, his dream and academic pursuits came to a halt in 2007 after he fell off a balcony in New Hampshire, making him a quadriplegic overnight.
After years of recovery at facilities like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Journey Forward, and with the support of family, friends, neighbors, and teachers, Graceffa will graduate this spring with a degree in music business. He was able to complete his degree with the services offered by Berklee Online, Berklee College of Music's online program.
Leonoor Rinke de Wit, B.M.
Contemporary Writing and Production, Berklee College of Music
Leonoor Rinke de Wit lived in Ethiopia, the Netherlands, and South Africa before arriving in Boston to to study contemporary writing and production. She began writing music at age 14 after studying Latin and Greek plays and attending comedic cabaret performances in high school.
While at Berklee, Rinke de Wit worked on theater productions and met Tony-winning orchestrator Bill Elliott, a professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department. With his guidance, she assisted with rehearsals for his Tony-nominated musical Bandstand. She also interned with the off-Broadway production of Jerry Springer: The Opera as a copyist for Tony-nominated composer Greg Anthony Rassen.
Rinke de Wit will serve as music director for the children’s theater summer program at the New School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the fall, she plans to move to New York City to pursue her dream of working in the world of theater as a composer and orchestrator.
Briana Bunkley, B.F.A.
Dance Performance, Boston Conservatory at Berklee
During her time at the Conservatory, Briana Bunkley, from Atlanta, re-staged choreography for a group of 30 dancers in the sold-out Bruno Mars Tribute Show at the Berklee Performance Center. “I had two weeks to pull all of these girls together, teach, and get them ready for the performance,” said Bunkley. “I’ve never done something this big but I’m so happy with the outcome. It wasn’t easy; I definitely had my work cut out for me.”
She has choreographed many shows at the Berklee Performance Center and the Berklee Dining Hall stage, and served as dance captain for Beyoncé's Original All-Female Band: A 10-Year Anniversary Concert, bouncing back just two months after having major foot surgery. Bunkley has also danced for Lil Wayne and D. Woods of Danity Kane, and appeared in Make Me Dance, a documentary that took an in-depth look at the Conservatory.
In the fall, Bunkley is headed to NYU Tisch School of the Arts and NYU Steinhardt to obtain a Master of Fine Arts in dance and Master of Arts in teaching dance. “I hope to one day have a career in both commercial and concert dance, then go home to Atlanta and teach in a high school or undergraduate setting," she says.
Ayanna Jacobs-El, B.M.
Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a Minor in Writing for TV and New Media, Berklee College of Music
While at Berklee, Ayanna Jacobs-El developed a music production company under her name with the goal of offering affordable, high-quality music for independent films, TV, games, advertising, and recording artists. Following graduation, Jacobs-El, who is from Huntsville, Alabama, plans to move to Los Angeles to expand her company and look for a job as a visual-media composer's assistant.
She also wants to change the world by fostering more diversity in music technology. “The industry is overwhelmingly white and male-driven. My goal is to encourage and provide education about this exciting field to women and people of color. My music production company will offer free lessons and workshops to women and minorities in the Los Angeles area... By creating more diversity with people of varied experiences and cultural backgrounds, the music technology world will evolve for the better, innovation will be in abundance, and the music being created will be more representative of the people in our multifaceted world,” she says.
Larry Shea, B.M.
Music Education, Berklee College of Music
Larry Shea, from Milford, Connecticut, has a bold aspiration: to be the best music teacher. His dream job would be as a middle school band director, though he also loves to teach guitar and songwriting to elementary school students.
“I want to teach students to explore the music they love and be able to take away what they learn in class to be part of their everyday lives, and not be limited in their musical experiences,” he says. Shea would focus his students on the limitless connections between musical styles, and promote originality and new directions. Students' earliest experiences, he says, impact their learning over the course of their school years.
“In five years, I want my music program to be such an example that other teachers will come and see what I do. I want to pass on to my students that music is a set of life skills they can use for their entire lives. I can't wait to see their smiles when they experience the power and indescribable joy of music,” Shea says.