Excitement filled the halls of SFCM last weekend as hundreds of students, both Pre-College and collegiate, walked across the stage of Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall to accept their diplomas. Commencement for collegiate students took place Friday, May 17, an occasion which saw the conferring of honorary degrees to composer and former faculty member John Adams as well as philanthropists Bernard and Barbro Osher, no strangers to SFCM.
After Board Chair Timothy Foo welcomed all in attendance to the ceremony, Dean Jonas Wright introduced the students selected to speak on behalf of the classes: Gillian Geraldine for the undergraduates and Maria van der Sloot for the graduates.
Geraldine, an international student, couldn’t hold her glee as she spoke to the audience.
“It is an immense honor for me to be standing here this morning as an international student from Indonesia to represent all the undergraduates, my peers and colleagues of incredible talent and passion,” she remarked. “For that, I’m thankful.”
Geraldine called attention to her inspired teachers, instructors that opened her eyes and showed her what an education at SFCM could be. The same went for Van der Sloot, another international student from Canada, as she made the connection between the journey of education to Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
“Paul Hersh, one of our most quotable and beloved professors, puts it well,” Van der Sloot said. “‘What is so baffling and profound about the Goldberg Variations is that when that opening aria is finally repeated, at the end of all of that, it’s exactly the same, and yet, it’s completely different. It’s utterly transformed.’ … That in-between is what each of us will take with us out the doors today.”
To honor this year’s honorary Doctor of Music recipient, the Telegraph Quartet performed two movements from Adams’ John’s Book of Alleged Dances and alumnus Sarah Cahill played his popular piano piece, China Gates. But before Adams took the stage, President David Stull gave special note and recognition, along with separate honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, to Bernard and Barbro Osher, two of the Bay Area’s most well-known and generous philanthropists—and the donors behind SFCM’s Osher Salon.
“They serve as an inspiring and unmatched example for all of us,” said Stull, speaking of the Oshers. “They believe that education, art, and opportunity should be available to all.”
John Adams, in his commencement address, took a whimsical tack, referencing his early career as a teacher at SFCM in the 1970s.
“The first time I ever heard mention of an institution called the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was sometime in the spring of 1971,” he remembered aloud. “Yes, a long time ago—I’m even afraid to do the math, but I suspect it’s nearly half a century ago.”
“I ended up teaching and coaching and conducting and producing concerts and pretty much spending nearly every available hour of my life at the school for the following ten years,” Adams added. “I consider those years as truly formative for me. In many ways, they constituted a real musical education that had only started in my previous years as a student.”
Adams called upon the universal need to express to illuminate his point that “music is the art of feeling.”
“For us, music is not a profession—it’s a life,” he said. “But it’s a life with real meaning, and in this current era of constantly distracting data, with our attention hijacked and our concentration seduced and scattered, to do something that requires stubborn effort and sustained focus, something that has genuine meaning and that forges a real (not a ‘virtual’) bridge between ourselves and others, something that makes us feel at the deepest levels of our being—that is a privilege. It is a privilege that only us lucky ones who have the gift of being musicians can enjoy and be thankful for.”
After Adams’ speech, Gary Rust, chair of the Presidential Alumni Council, presented alumnus and Del Sol Quartet co-founder Charlton Lee ’93 with this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award, a medal given to a member of the alumni community who has achieved exceptional success in their career.
The conferring of degrees featured students receiving the Bachelor of Music, Professional Studies Diploma, Postgraduate Diploma in Vocal Performance, Artist Certificate in Chamber Music, and Master of Music, each accepting their hard-earned accolade as their names were called.
The reception following the commencement ceremony was full of jubilation. Students and teachers hugged, laughed, and cried as they said goodbye to one chapter of their lives and opened the next.
“Today was the first day that it actually hit me,” said Katherine Ahmann, the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Achievement. “It’s been so exciting—I was just sitting there trying not to cry.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this moment for the past four years,” said Jana Ma, a member of the first graduating class from the technology and applied composition department. “It’s also kind of sad. But I’m excited about my career ahead of me.”
The Pre-College’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18 was also full of pomp and circumstance. With welcome messages and opening and closing remarks by Dean Wright and Associate Dean Michael Roest, SFCM’s academic leadership was there to see this graduating class off to colleges across the country including Harvard, Princeton, NYU, Stanford, and even SFCM.
As part of the ceremony, Christopher Salinas, who will be attending SFCM as a college student in the fall, performed Philip Glass’ Mad Rush, and a woodwind quintet performed student David Corbett’s Ritual, a piece which won him the Kris Getz Composition Award.
“Graduating from the Pre-College marks a turning point in my musical endeavors,” remarked Salinas. “It’s the end of one stage and the start of another. I’m extremely grateful that the SFCM Pre-College program has given me such a solid foundation that will help to launch me into whatever lies in my future.”