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'Have a Vision for the Future. You Deserve That:' David Stull Welcomes a New Academic Year with Convocation

The SFCM community gathered to celebrate its 106th year with a live performance, awards, and a stirring message for students as they start another school year.

September 15, 2023 by Alex Heigl

SFCM's 2023-2024 school year opened with an enthusiastic crowd and appreciative students—on both sides of the stage. 

After opening remarks from President David Stull inside the Caroline H. Hume concert hall, two awards were conferred: The first was the Presser Undergraduate Scholarship—named for music publishing magnate and philanthropist Theodore Presser—to voice student Emilia Perrotta ('24).

Associate Dean For Academic Affairs Michael Roest and Emilia Perrotta.

Associate Dean For Academic Affairs Michael Roest and Emilia Perrotta.

Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jonas Wright then awarded the Sarlo Family Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching to cello and chamber music faculty Jennifer Culp. A short speech from her former student, 2018 graduate Evan Kahn, (who just this year won the Principal Cello position with the San Francisco Symphony) spoke glowingly of Culp's teaching and collected anecdotes from several of her former students. 

From left: SFCM President David Stull, Evan Kahn, Jennifer Culp, and Dean Jonas Wright.

From left: SFCM President David Stull, Evan Kahn, Jennifer Culp, and Dean Jonas Wright.

"Often people who receive awards and recognition are those that are in the limelight. Either they're put there or because they put themselves there," Kahn said. "It's not so often that we get to publicly recognize an individual that actively avoids that limelight and instead chooses to lift those around them into their own light, without ego or expectation of reciprocity. Jennifer is one of those rare few people."

SFCM President David Stull addresses students at the Conservatory's 2023 convocation.

SFCM President David Stull addresses students at the Conservatory's 2023 convocation.

President Stull began his remarks by comparing two recordings of Count Basie's big band, prompting students to notice that in the second clip, the musicians were playing heavily behind the beat. 

"The lesson here is that we as musicians have the ability to shape time," he said. "The ability to shape time and the ability to shape experience. Just like the experience in this room has been shaped. You shared an experience in this space. Every time we're on stage, we get to do that. Now, if you can shape time and you can shape experience, you can shape the future."

Tabitha Mason performs at SFCM's 2023 convocation.

Tabitha Mason performs at SFCM's 2023 convocation.

"I am encouraging you to have a vision for the future," Stull continued. "You deserve that. That is what a great education is all about and that's why we are here. You're heading into the world, and the fact is, the world needs you. It really does. It needs the skills you have, the focus, the passion. You have your desire to express, your desire to tell a human story, and the world needs that. Because music builds community, community builds a better world, and you have the ability to create that."

The convocation concluded with Tabitha Mason ('24) on violin, performing "Faithfully Yours," with music and lyrics by Joi Marchetti ('25) and additional composition by Ryan Camastral ('25), accompanied by a choreographed dance routine projected onstage.