NEC’s Graduating Class of 2024 Honored at 153rd Commencement Ceremony in Jordan Hall

New England Conservatory celebrated the graduating class of 2024 on Sunday, May 19, in historic Jordan Hall during a ceremony for graduates, family, and friends. Honorary degrees were awarded to legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon ’24 hon. DM, conductor Robert Spano ’24 hon. DM, and soprano Dawn Upshaw ’24 hon. DM, with remarks from Simon along with NEC President Andrea Kalyn, Alumni Speaker Lina González-Granados ’14 MM, ’15 GD, and Student Speaker June Chung ’24 MM. 

Paul Simon

New England Conservatory’s 153rd Commencement ceremony was a joyous celebration and reminder to the graduating class of 2024 to take pride in the many small steps along their journey as musicians. As each speaker took the podium to honor this year's 274 graduates, remarks echoed themes of music's transcendent power to impact the world.

Andrea Kalyn
"As you venture into the world, never forget that you are forever part of the NEC family," said NEC President Andrea Kalyn.

“Musicians have important, necessary things to contribute to the world,” said NEC President Andrea Kalyn. “Musicians don't just practice music; musicians practice humanity — in the daily struggle to get it right, and in the very act of connecting with audiences and with each other — and our world very badly needs more of that.”

“Music has the power to heal, to inspire, to make people weep or jump up and dance for joy,” said Commencement Speaker and honorary degree recipient Paul Simon ’24 hon. DM. “You have chosen a profession that can provide a lifetime’s journey into the ineffable. Congratulations on completing this stage of your education — now your real education will begin. Take care of yourselves. You are precious.”

Commencement Speaker Paul Simon ’24 hon. DM advises graduates to “listen deeply and profoundly”

Paul Simon
"We are all the recipients of the music that came before us. We are what we love," said Paul Simon ’24 hon. DM.

Contemporary Musical Arts Co-Chair Hankus Netsky introduced Commencement Speaker and honorary degree recipient Paul Simon ’24 hon. DM, a prolific singer-songwriter whose distinguished career spans over seven decades and includes multiple timeless masterpieces, 16 GRAMMY awards, two inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Kennedy Center Honors, among numerous other distinctions.

"Paul Simon’s work has expanded the very definition of what constitutes an 'American Tune,' redefining it as intercultural expression on the broadest possible scale," said Netsky.

Two resounding standing ovations bookended Simon's address to the graduating class. During his remarks, he shared observations and advice from his decades as a musician and songwriter. “Contained within the realm of hearing is the skill, the art, of listening,” he told graduates. “The composer’s task as he or she wrestles with the creation of a new work, is to listen deeply and profoundly to the elements of the music: harmonic texture, the space surrounding the notes, attention span and rhythm. But most of all, to actively listen to the sounds just beyond the horizon of your imagination. The just-out-of-reach thought that you long to express.”

Simon left graduates with a final piece of advice as they enter the world as professional musicians: “Take from everywhere,” he said. “We are all the recipients of the music that came before us. We are what we love. So take from the past, take the sounds of the natural world, take city-scape sirens and honks. Take spoken language and technology. Take. The amazing thing is, from these varied resources, a new hybrid will emerge. An amalgam of sound that is fresh. You will own this hybrid, but it isn’t yours. It belongs to your ancestors and the community. So share it generously.”

Honorary degrees for Paul Simon, Dawn Upshaw, and Robert Spano

Robert Spano
Robert Spano ’24 hon. DM receives his honorary doctoral hood from Hugh Wolff and Michael Gandolfi.

In addition to Simon, honorary degrees were conferred upon Robert Spano ’24 hon. DM, a four-time GRAMMY winner who is Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Music Director Laureate of the Atlanta Symphony after 20 seasons at the helm, and who has served as Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School since 2011; and five-time GRAMMY-winning soprano, educator, and MacArthur Fellow Dawn Upshaw ’24 hon. DM.

Spano was introduced by NEC Philharmonia conductor Hugh Wolff and Composition Chair Michael Gandolfi. Wolff remarked on Spano’s profound contributions to American musical life, including music directorships in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Fort Worth, the Aspen Festival, and, most recently, the Washington Opera.

Dawn Upshaw
Dawn Upshaw ’24 hon. DM receives her honorary doctoral hood from Bradley Williams.

“He is a born educator, a deep thinker, an inspiring musical presence, and a really fun person to be around,” said Wolff. Gandolfi then spoke to Spano’s extraordinary advocacy for American composers. "Robert Spano has had an incalculable effect on my creative growth, as well as that of many of my contemporaries, to wit: Jennifer Higdon, Osvaldo Golijov, and Chris Theofanidis. And there were many more that followed," said Gandolfi. "In short, we would not have plumbed the depths of our creativity if it weren’t for Robert’s visionary and consummate artistic leadership."

NEC’s Chair of Voice, Bradley Williams, introduced Upshaw, sharing a dazzling summary of the singer’s outstanding achievements in the vocal arts. “Joining a rare natural warmth with a fierce commitment to the transforming communicative power of music, Dawn Upshaw has achieved worldwide celebrity as a singer of opera and concert repertoire ranging from the sacred works of Bach to the freshest sounds of today,” said Williams. “Her ability to reach to the heart of music and text has earned her both the devotion of an exceptionally diverse audience and the awards and distinctions accorded to only the most distinguished of artists.”

Student and Alumni Speakers encourage graduates to embrace the process

Lina Gonzales-Granados
"Celebrate yourself," said Alumni Speaker and internationally-renowned conductor Lina González-Granados ’14 MM, ’15 GD.

Alumni Speaker Lina González-Granados ’14 MM, ’15 GD was recently appointed Resident Conductor by the LA Opera through June 2025. After winning the Fourth Chicago Symphony Orchestra Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition, she was named the Solti Conducting Apprentice and served as assistant to Maestro Riccardo Muti until June 2023. Her achievements also earned her a spot on Bloomberg Línea's list of the 100 Influential Latinos of 2022. Now, ten years after graduating from NEC with her Master of Music in Wind Ensemble Conducting, González-Granados returned to address the graduating class of 2024.

Reading an excerpt from a poem her father had written and given to her on her own NEC graduation day, Gonzáles-Granados encouraged graduates to savor their journey and “don’t rush the process in search of the destination.”

She continued by sharing the lessons she has learned in the ten years since her graduation, including what she called the most important: that each individual must define for themselves what success looks like. “You have to be proud of every step that you take and the sacrifices you make," she said. "Celebrate yourself, and don’t wait for external validation.”

June Chung
Violinist June Chung ’24 MM addresses her peers as Student Speaker.

June Chung ’24 MM, a violinist who will continue her journey at NEC by pursuing a graduate diploma this fall, took the stage to address her classmates as this year's Student Speaker, wearing a sparkling graduation cap decked out with butterflies and the number 24. Chung encouraged her peers to celebrate small successes on the way to larger ones. "We are artists, capable of forming the strongest emotional connections with our music and reaching as high as the stars with our passion for it," she said. "All these small successes — learning a new piece, writing a new song, or for the classical musicians, learning how to improvise — all of these may seem like small, ordinary things that we have to do, that we normally do. But in the eyes of the world, they are great things. So please know that your small successes on your way to achieve something bigger are meaningful and impactful for the community around us and beyond."

A jazz processional, an operatic interlude, and a Contemporary Musical Arts finale

Jazz ensemble
Zack Bacak ’24 MM, Mark Tipton ’24 DMA, Aiden Coleman ’25, and Paul July Joseph ’27 led the processional with New Orleans-style jazz.

A lively New Orleans-style jazz medley filled Jordan Hall to mark the ceremony's beginning, performed by an ensemble comprising clarinetist Zack Bacak ’24 MM, trumpeter Mark Tipton ’24 DMA, trombonist Aiden Coleman ’25, and drummer Paul July Joseph ’27. Graduating students walked in "second line"-style behind the ensemble, waving to loved ones and snapping along to the upbeat music.

baritone Hyungjin Son ’24 MM and pianist Su Jin Choi ’23 GD, ’24 GC performed a rousing musical interlude of "Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre'' from Carmen by George Bizet.
Hyungjin Son ’24 MM and Su Jin Choi ’23 GD, ’24 GC perform "Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre'' from Carmen

Ahead of Paul Simon's commencement address, baritone Hyungjin Son ’24 MM and pianist Su Jin Choi ’23 GD, ’24 GC performed a rousing musical interlude of "Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre'' from Carmen by George Bizet. During a pause in singing, Son smiled widely at the audience of graduating students, and laughter ensued. An explosion of applause erupted throughout the hall following the duo's performance.

CMA ensemble
A CMA folk ensemble comprising Jacqui Armbruster ’24 MM, Michele Zimmerman ’24 MM, and Karl Henry ’24 MM led the recessional.

Closing out the ceremony, a Contemporary Musical Arts folk ensemble comprising fiddle players Jacqui Armbruster ’24 MM and Michele Zimmerman ’24 MM and cellist Karl Henry ’24 MM led the recessional. In a celebratory nod to Simon, the first piece of their set was his song “That Was Your Mother.”

Awards and recognition for students and faculty

Nine graduating students received special honors during Sunday’s Commencement ceremony. Following her address, Alumni Speaker Lina González-Granados ’14 MM, ’15 GD presented the Tourjée Alumni Scholarship to collaborative pianist Elgin Lee ’23 GD, ’24 GC.

The Donald Martino Award for Excellence in Composition, given to an outstanding composition student, was awarded to Changjin Ha ’24.

Contemporary Musical Arts graduate Itay Dayan ’24 MM received the Lyman Row Global Musicianship Award, presented to a student who demonstrates a deep commitment to and in-depth study of a world music tradition.

The Award for Excellence in Liberal Arts, given to a senior who completes outstanding work across multiple disciplines in the Liberal Arts and who serves the NEC community through extracurricular activities that extend beyond their musical studies, went to trumpeter Cody York ’24.

Additionally, Provost Ben Sosland presented three members of the graduating class with the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Spark Award, which grants each student $1,000 in recognition of their entrepreneurial spirit: violinist Arun Asthagiri ’24, pianist Shalun Li ’19, ’21 MM, and jazz clarinetist Jahnvi Madan ’24.

The Chadwick Medal, awarded to an exceptional undergraduate, was presented to Vocal Performance graduate Nicholas Ottersberg Enriquez ’24.

The Gunther Schuller medal, which honors a graduate student who has made extraordinary contributions to the conservatory, was presented to pianist Charles Berofsky ’24 MM.

The ceremony also honored faculty member Lisa Saffer as a new member of NEC's distinguished group of Faculty Emeriti and celebrated her retirement after years of dedicated service. Carole Haber received the Louis and Adrienne Krasner Teaching Excellence Award, and alumnus and long-time staff photographer Andrew Hurlbut ’84 MM, ’85 MM, recently retired, received a Presidential Commendation from President Kalyn.

Also honored were faculty and staff members celebrating significant anniversaries, including Hankus Netsky and Wha Kyung Byun (45 years), Laura Blustein Gibbons and Carole Haber (35 years), Marjorie Apfelbaum and Panagiota Kambouris (30 years), Miriam Fried, Alexander Korsantia, and Tanya Maggi (20 years), Kati Agócs, Jill Gatlin, Michael Meraw, Elizabeth Van Voorhis, Justin Williams, and Hugh Wolff (15 years), and Jane Eaglen, Sean Gallagher, Steven Goldstein, Davide Ianni, Angela Leidig, Jérôme Mouffe, Hannah Spence, and Jacob Vance (10 years).

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NEC's Chair of the Board of Trustees, Thomas W. Blumenthal, greets graduates and guests
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