SFCM and Joyce DiDonato Send Off Grads With In-Person Fanfare

Joyce DiDonato delivers remarks at SFCM 2022 commencement.

Joyce DiDonato delivers remarks at SFCM 2022 commencement.

SFCM awarded more than 150 students with credentials at the first in-person commencement since 2019. Watch Joyce DiDonato's full speech below.

For the first time since 2019, SFCM held an in-person commencement ceremony to celebrate its expected 155 graduates for the class of 2022 at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

Multi–GRAMMY Award winner Joyce DiDonato spoke to students, offering heartfelt remarks that touched on the moment's uniqueness while still offering timeless advice.

"This is your fate,” DiDonato said. “This is the hand that you have been dealt. And how brave you all are to have walked through the fire. As I've tried to navigate personally through the uncertainty of this moment, I've really consciously turned to the constant, unwavering, wise and timeless teacher that music has been for me."

"I believe great music and artistry connect us to the deepest part of ourselves that the modern world tries so hard to make us forget about," she continued. "With all due respect, I don't quite believe you understand yet just how powerful you are ... You have been called to live this moment, to rise up, and to respond to the very real needs of the world around you."

SFCM awarded 155 credentials across its undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate and artist diploma programs. Patrick Galvin (BM ’15, MM ’22) and Lindsay Martin (BM ’22) were nominated and elected by their peers to deliver student remarks. Graduates from the 2020 and 2021 classes were also invited to return to join in the ceremony.

DiDonato was proclaimed “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by the New Yorker and her voice was described as “nothing less than 24-carat gold” by the New York Times. She is renowned in the industry both as a performer and an advocate for the arts, gaining international prominence in operas by Handel and Mozart and through her wide-ranging, acclaimed discography. She is also widely praised for the bel canto roles of Rossini and Donizetti.

Graduates from SFCM's Classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

SFCM President David H. Stull (pictured below) also delivered remarks to graduates, underscoring the timeless importance of music in a changing world. "Why does music matter?” Stull said. “Well, it is essential to life. It's not an option. Why does education matter? Because education is the best promise for tomorrow. In this country, we have lost the ability to listen, to empathize and to humanize each other. Music inevitably makes that happen."

"We are rooting for you, permanently,” Stull finished. ”You are now part of this place in perpetuity. That means you're always welcome here. Music: it'll shepherd you through this life. It'll get you through the worst times and celebrate the best times. It's always going to be with you. Congratulations, Class of '22, '21 and '20."

Read the full text of DiDonato's commencement below.

It's an incredible joy to be here, coming back together in-person to help you all celebrate this incredible accomplishment that you've done. I appear before you today happily in the flesh, and not on some dreadful Zoom thing. 

I’m wishing strongly that, somehow, I was coming to you from the future. I'm not sure if I need 10 years or perhaps 100 years to try and gain a true and comforting perspective about this unique moment in time that we're passing through together. I have a lot of questions that I’d love some answers to about what we've been living. I'm thinking of the extreme and utterly unique challenges which each of you had to face at this moment of time over these last two years of your education, challenges that perhaps we've now somehow normalized, even though we know we shouldn't. 

But I don't want us to kid ourselves. This moment in time is unlike anything that humanity has really ever faced before. It's landed at your doorstep, right at the moment that you were meant to be taking flight. 

You were sent indoors when you were meant to be on stage.  

When you were covering were very instruments when you were meant to be opening yourself, discovering how to bare your soul through the music that you make. 

And I imagined that while you were prepared to address anxieties of finding your way into the musical landscape of your dreams, you didn't expect to battle the fears and insecurities of common, daily, everyday life in the pandemic world. 

And yet, this is your fate. This is the hand that you have been dealt. 

How brave you are to have walked through the fire. 

As I've tried to navigate personally, through the uncertainty of this moment, I've really, consciously turned to this constant, unwavering, wise and timeless teacher that music has been for me. 

And I've aimed to practice what I often preach, which is that it's not about the destination, but it's about the journey—which I know sounds like a lovely meme that should be on an Instagram story, but it's really true. 

I'm a process person. Because the process is that glorious, formidable place where the magic, the growth, and the mystery happens. 

It doesn't happen at the curtain call. It happens on that first day of rehearsal; the first day you take pen to paper to write your score. 

And I don't want to sound too guru-ish, but really, it truly is about showing up in the present moment, with all that you are. Not 90%, not 96%, but everything that you are on any given day—and that is where your power comes from. 

So as much as I'd like to, I can't come to you from the future with wise, calming reassurances and tell you how all of this plays out. None of us really know yet. And I don't, I don't know that I would want to know. 

Instead, I stand in front of you in this very alive, true, present moment, reluctantly, sharing in your questions and anxieties, but exuberantly, sharing in your excitement and wonder—at least I hope you still have that childlike wonder that is burning inside of you. 

I get to take your hand, I look each of you in the eyes, and I say: let's get to work. 

You see, I don't think it's an accident that you all are here. 

You see, I think that because you are here for a reason, you have been called—each one of you—here to rise up and meet this moment in time. Right here, right now. I think you've been called to lead the world at a really critical juncture. 

With all due humility, I'm quite certain that the arts hold the majority of answers for this troubled, lost, disconnected, divided world that we're living in right now. And you, as musicians have been called to show the way. 

You can impact it in ways that I know you can't even begin to imagine right now. But if you're bold enough, and if you dare to share it with your open heart, you're going to help lead us out of all this. 

I want you to go back to the first memory that you can find of making music. For the first time you heard music and you went 'What's that?' That moment where you thought, 'I think I'm home. I love this.' 

I want you to forget for a moment how hard it's been to master your instrument, to suspend for a minute all the pressures you might be feeling to get it right, to put on hold worrying about all the technical things you get to resolve and all the inadequacies that you let creep into your psyche. And I want you to remember the sheer joy that you encountered when you first discovered music. 

For me, it was a hairbrush, it was my bedroom mirror was this long, yellow scarf that was supposed to be long blonde hair—Farrah Fawcett hair—and it was the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. I was home, I was alone. But I was queen of the world. 

Now I also want you to remember how powerful it was to feel understood by the music that you are either listening to or making, to recall how seen you felt, and how your go-to music had the power to bring you to that ugly-cry place, and to bring genuine, welcome relief for a blissful, merciful moment in your life. 

For me, it was coming home rushing home from school between the ages of 13 and 17 and playing the first movement on piano of 'Moonlight Sonata.' I couldn't play the third movement, but I could play the first movement. And that Beethoven, I was sure, understood my rejection by Eric and Patrick and Mark—and he knew him better than anybody. Nobody else understood me and those rejections the way Beethoven did. 

I also want you to go back and I want you to recall the first time that you felt the power of sharing your music with somebody else. When you, your true self, connected and dared to share it with somebody else, when another human being felt the depth of your soul because you were brave enough to share it with them. And without saying a word you somehow both knew, in that moment, that you weren't alone. 

For me, I was given a solo my sophomore year in high school, that younger child from Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. And afterwards, my dad was in tears. It was the only day I'd seen my dad cry. It unlocked something in him. And the two of us shared that music that was written seventy years earlier by some guy I never met. 

I believe great music and artistry connects us to the deepest part of ourselves that the modern world tries so hard to make us forget about. I mean, if we have that happiness, and joy, and connection to who we really are already thriving within us, because we've had the incredible luxury of exploring it through our music, then we don't actually need to purchase it anywhere. We own it, we get to create it. And I suppose that's pretty inconvenient for a world that thrives on selling us the illusion that we're just not enough. 

I know that the powerful ritual of offering comfort, solace, understanding to another human being through a shared experience, transforms the human heart. It softens us. It opens us. It performs a kind of alchemy, connecting one human to another. And it relieves us of the tiresome burden of pretending that we're okay. Because through that shared music, we have a shared suffering. We're seen. We're understood. And we're not alone. And I suppose that's not always convenient for an external world that needs division in order to conquer and define power. 

I believe in an encounter with something beautiful, harmonious, even pure, that gives us the appetite, the desire, the craving, to search out even more beauty. When we surround ourselves with a vista of beauty, when we create music or art that nurtures that deepest part of us, that dreams and yearns for a pathway to love more truly -- well, then naturally, we have a lot less tolerance and acceptance for the ugliness of our world that feeds on the misery of the human condition. I can think of no better living example of how to face the challenges of our current world than to look at what happens when music is made. People from all different backgrounds, different experiences gather together and collectively agreed to share in a ritual that can only ever exist in that moment in time. And there’s safety there. There's equality there. We’re united and we're alive, allowing something that isn't physical or tangible to bore into our hearts and souls. 

When we invite that magic into our experience, and the audience trusts us, time is suspended. We're not alone. And there's space created where we can reach out to each other, to love. 

I'll never quite understand why this is really the hardest part of all, but in that space that is created and open, we get to receive the love that is present around us. The music is always there with open arms. If it can happen in that moment, what's stopping us from fostering and nourishing it after the final chord sounds? 

We have an endless opportunity in the modern world to separate and isolate ourselves; to disconnect from each other and to shut down and numb ourselves into oblivion, really. It's decidedly more challenging to find the invitations around us to safely connect and to claim that love that belongs to us, and that we have to share. The shared musical experience effortlessly, patiently, continuously shows us the way. 

I'm looking at each of you today. With all due respect, I don't quite believe you understand yet just how powerful you are. 

Because you're here today, sitting before me, having put so much time and effort under such extraordinarily challenging circumstances. You have been called to live this moment, to rise up, and to respond to the very real needs of the world around you. 

You have the incredible opportunity to say 'yes' to this calling, to begin to employ everything that you have learned, all that you have conquered, all that you have overcome and to bring that wealth of experience and wisdom into a world in need; into a world that may not always recognize that there's an urgency and a longing for deeper connection; into a world that needs your voice to comfort it, to sustain it, to inspire it, to beautify it, to unify it. And at the end of the day, I guess you're just called to love it. 

You have that power to awaken that connection in all of us and in yourself through your devotion to your craft, through the assumption of the immense power of beauty and truth-telling that you're going to bring to your performances or compositions, through the generosity of how you lift up your colleagues and support their vital journey as well, through the home that you help create everywhere you go and through the grace of how you choose to share your message, and your unique voice, with the world around you. 

While I might not be coming to you with assurances from the future, I can absolutely guarantee you that if you stay present to your incredible journey and calling, assume your undeniable power, let go of those fears and obstacles that interfere with your calling, and do the work of embracing, loving, and empowering that spark, that youthful spark, that got you here in the first place—of passion and creativity and everything that brought you here today—then you got this. 

Congratulations to each and every one of you. 

May you astound us with your beauty, your truth, your music, and your love. 

Go out there. Take no prisoners."