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Commencement Weekend: Collegiate and Pre-College Students Rise to the Occasion

Bonnie Hampton

“I challenge you to walk, live, speak, perform, and compose your truth each day like it is your last opportunity to do so.” Those words spoken by violinist DuMarkus Davis, the speaker representing the undergraduate students at this year’s collegiate commencement ceremony, echoed through Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall—a send-off that urged graduates to seize the day and not to pretend to be anybody but themselves. It was a stirring speech, one of passion and personal reflection.

Davis’ uniquely well-crafted remarks weren’t the only indication that this event was something special. The ceremony, held on Friday, May 18, was a display of determination and a showcase of the incredibly diverse and talented artists cultivated at SFCM. Collaborative piano major Taylor Chan, speaking for the graduate students, drew a metaphor that spoke to her background as a collaborator. (She asked all in the room to raise their hand if she had worked with them in some capacity. A jarringly large number apparently had.) Working together was the theme that played through Chan’s speech, a directive and mindset she feels drives our very being.

It started with SFCM Board Chair Timothy Foo welcoming everyone in attendance—students, faculty, family, alumni—to what amounted to the culminating event of SFCM’s centennial year. Provost and Dean Kate Sheeran introduced the student speakers, and for the student performance, graduating voice major Jasmine Johnson gave an impassioned rendition of Amazing Grace that roused the hall. President David Stull conferred the honorary doctorate on veteran faculty member Bonnie Hampton.

Hampton told the audience of her near-seven-decade relationship with the Conservatory, going as far back as 1952 when she first studied with the Griller String Quartet, and provided some advice for the graduating class.

“We are just lucky to have music in our lives and the ability to share it with others,” she said. “But just know that music, as a source of love and energy, gives itself back to you a thousandfold.”

After a spirited account of the fourth movement of Schubert’s String Quintet, which she performed with SFCM’s quartet-in-residence, the Telegraph Quartet, Hampton was also presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award by pianist Jeffrey LaDeur ’11, a member of SFCM’s Presidential Alumni Council.

President Stull’s closing remarks to the graduating class of 2018 combined history with a call to action, reflecting on SFCM’s founders as pioneers, the spirit they instilled in the Conservatory manifested in today’s students.

“Your presence here today is a testament to the power of [Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead’s] great vision, but most importantly, an unwavering commitment to a dream,” Stull said. “What set them apart sets all of you apart. They relished challenge, they relished hard work. They were not afraid to fail until they succeeded.”

Graduating cellist Evan Kahn offered some insight on why the Conservatory feels so much like a family and how it opens doors for young artists.

“First of all, I came here to study with Jennifer Culp, who’s been such an inspiration to me,” said Kahn. “It’s been amazing working with her for three years. I came here for a one-year degree program, and I stayed partially because of her, but also partially because of the chamber music program. The chamber music program here is phenomenal and I got so many opportunities in the city just from taking local auditions and meeting new people. It’s such a wonderful place to work and be right now.”

Johnson, who completed both her bachelor’s degree and now her master’s degree at SFCM, feels the same. She’ll be staying at SFCM to continue her studies in voice.

“SFCM has changed my life for the better,” she said. “My skill level has increased through my many classes and working with my amazing professors. I’ve been afforded so many amazing opportunities, and I’ve been blessed every way through. I thank SFCM for these amazing six years, and I can’t wait for next year to do my postgraduate!”

The was also the first year that SFCM held a commencement ceremony for its Pre-College division. The event, held on May 19, featured the presentation of multiple accolades including certificates and awards in chamber music and musicianship, as well as the Kris Getz Composition Award.

Maria Shim, a Pre-College parent and former Pre-College student herself, welcomed the crowd.

“Thirty years ago I entered the Pre-College, and twenty-one years ago I gave the student speech as I graduated, so it’s a great privilege for me to be here today to come full circle to see yet another generation of students emerge from this institution,” she said, clearly moved by the occasion.

Following Shim’s remarks, Pre-College voice student Evan Tiapula gave this year’s student speech, a reflective ode to the insight he’s gained while at the Conservatory.

“I realized that music is inextricably connected to our lives and that our daily interactions inform our musical choices,” said Tiapula. “If the Conservatory has taught me anything at all, it’s to have patience and trust in the process.”

Violinist Mai Matsumoto and pianist Charis Tang gave a performance of Paganini’s Cantabile. That performance was followed by another—Emile Serper’s Reflections and Dance, winner of the Kris Getz Composition Award, featuring violinist Jonathan Altman and Sophie Zhang, violist Emily Kam, and cellist Iris Kwok.

Pre-College Director Michael Roest had some advice for the graduating class of 2018. Noting the history of SFCM and its founders, Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead, and his own experience, Roest put out a simple plan of action.

“Consider what gives you purpose in life, go where there’s nothing, and, most importantly, please thank everyone around you that’s helped you get to where you are right now,” he said.

Graduates of the Pre-College division are known for going on to attend some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Students from this year’s graduating class will attend Cornell University, UC Berkeley, Princeton University, Oberlin Conservatory, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, The Juilliard School, and other renowned schools.

After both ceremonies, students gathered with their families in the Phyllis Wattis Atrium and celebrated the closing of one chapter and opening of the next.

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