“When new ideas force us to reconsider what we know, we slowly begin to grow.” Those were the words of graduating master’s degree candidate Kevin Sun as he imparted his final bits of wisdom on the class of 2017. Speaking as a representative of graduate students at SFCM’s 2017 commencement, Sun’s impassioned speech struck a chord with the hundreds of students, families, and faculty present in Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall.
Sun is the kind of speaker who inspires through the lens of the horizon. “Why should we limit ourselves when we feel a clear necessity to do something based on our emerging beliefs,” he said. “We can’t be stuck in past failures, or even worse, live in fear of failing … [Music] needs us graduates who will advocate for our unique visions of what music can be.”
This pioneering sentiment was palpable in both words and music at the ceremony, which took place on Friday, May 19, along with lightheartedness to match. It was evident in the performance of selections from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations by the marimba trio made up of students Edward Hong, Yi-Hsuan Lin, and Katrina Shore. It flowed like a river from the words of Deepa Pakianathan, Executive Vice-Chair of SFCM’s Board of Trustees, to the speech of undergraduate student speaker Nicholas Denton-Protsack to President David H. Stull’s minute-long litany of descriptors in his introduction of honorary doctorate recipient Patricia Racette. “Hero, villain, friend, temptress, ruler, servant, tyrant, victim...” Stull began, falling into verse as the audience laughed with each contradiction piling on top of the next. Racette’s acceptance speech could most appropriately be described as “saucy.” “Wow, always wanted to be a doctor,” she deadpanned before heading into her prepared remarks.
But Racette set out to give a message, and give a message she did. Reflecting on her own experiences as a young, aspiring artist, she eloquently put music’s role in perspective. She recalled her assignment to sing the High Priestess in Aida as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera just after the 1989 earthquake, which closed the War Memorial Opera House, necessitating the move of the production to the Masonic Auditorium. “I’ll never forget the audience’s response to those performances … Natural disasters, terror attacks, political upheaval, we all crave the retreat that performances like those offered. They help us all reawaken our higher nature. Music does that.”
This idea clearly spoke to a captivated student body, a group of young artists eager to hear about the future their lives might hold. These students also saw a preview of their futures in the presentation of the inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award to Minna Choi ’09 (of Magik*Magik fame). Choi, a vocalist, composer, and bandleader, serves as the manifestation of success in SFCM alumni. She works to combine every facet of her artistic being into a whole project, creating something unique and precious—the embodiment of today’s artist and music’s future, and an SFCM alumna worthy of such distinction.
And as each graduate heard their name ready by Provost and Dean Kate Sheeran, and walked across the stage to accept their diploma, a new future began, not yet written and full of aspiration.