August 30, 2023: Convocation Address

Good afternoon, let me begin by welcoming all of you, faculty, staff and students, to the start of the 2023-24 Academic Year.  It’s always so great to have everyone back, and see the campus bustling again.

I want to offer a special welcome to those of you who are new to Peabody:  students, faculty, and staff.  I know you will find Peabody to be a wonderful community and we’re glad you’re now part of it.

I also want to thank Cynthia Hu and Opal Clyburn, for your thoughtful comments and wonderful performance, and a special thank you to HieYon Choi for her performance – Gahm-suh-hahm-nee-dah, HieYon.  We are just delighted to have you in our community – welcome!

Also, if I may, a bit of housekeeping – I want to invite everyone to join us for lunch on the Plaza immediately following Convocation.  This is a nice opportunity to visit, to greet old friends, and to make new ones.

So to set the stage, we’ve been growing.  Five or six years ago, the number of students on campus was around 575, today it is more than 800, more than ever in Peabody’s 166-year history.  You come to us from 35 countries; from 46 of the fifty states in the U.S. and the growing diversity of our campus is now comprised of 16 percent of students who come from historically underrepresented communities.  And here I will reiterate our commitment to Peabody’s role in creating a more diverse and inclusive community and field of professionals in the performing arts.  The demographic winds blow heavily in the direction of a future that will depend on attracting more diverse audiences than historically has ever been the case.  That can only happen if the range and breadth of creative voices in our field reflects our world.  With the recent decision from the United States Supreme Court striking down any kind of consideration of race in decisions around admissions, we rededicate ourselves to a diverse community of students, faculty and staff.  Our values remain unchanged.

Now, speaking of values, last year after several years of work we launched a reenergized mission for Peabody and a set of core values that we believe represent the deep history that is Peabody, alongside the innovative, forward-looking vision of a 21st century conservatory.

Anyone that takes my arts leadership seminar knows that we spend some time talking about mission and values and why they are so central to, and illustrative of an institution.  After several years of work, an untold number of conversations involving so many across our community, the statement that emerged was both simple and, I think, spot on.  The mission of the Peabody Institute is:

To elevate the human experience through leadership at the intersection of art and education.

To me, there are 3 simple, but profound aspects of that statement.  “Elevating the human experience” in many ways defines art.  To experience and respond to, and be inspired by art, is to be human – no one leaves a performance the same way they came in.  “To elevate the human experience through leadership” – Peabody is a leader today.  Whether we’re talking about the Breakthrough Curriculum, the intersection of music and technology, the intersection of performing arts and health, or diversity, equity and inclusion, Peabody has assumed a leadership role.  And we train artists that are leaders, that are creating new pathways, that are breaking down barriers.  Finally, when we talk about “at the intersection of art and education” – well that’s pretty much what we do:  we are educating artists to be leaders in the 21st century.

So, each and every day as our students go about your Peabody experience, as our faculty share your wisdom and guidance, and our staff contribute your skills and support, we are all unified by that mission, To elevate the human experience through leadership at the intersection of art and education.

I hope you will all consider your Peabody experience in the context of that mission.

To our students especially: Work hard, practice and excel in your discipline.  That is important.  But I hope you’ll also experience as much as you can.  If you’re a performer, explore working with a composer; if you’re a composer, work with a dancer; learn how to create and advance new ideas; discover community engagement and what it means to you; explore the connection between the performing arts and health while at the same time, protecting your own future by understanding that connection; explore the dynamics of arts institutions and arts in our lives today.  Start to understand at a deeper level the field you are going into so that you can really shape the future of the performing arts.

You have a unique opportunity at the oldest and one of the most forward-looking conservatories in the world – and as a student of Johns Hopkins University — to do all this which will make you a better, more connected, and more viable artist.

Finally, stay in touch with the love that brought you to this point.  It is not always easy to do that.  Sometimes the day-to-day pressure and competition, and the desire to succeed can at times work against that inherent passion.  Stay connected with, and enjoy your passion, and try to learn something every day.  Have a great year, and I’ll see you in a bit out on the Plaza.