About three weeks ago Professor Benjamin Brinner, Chairman of the Music Department at the University of California, Berkeley called me to his office and asked me to speak on behalf of the graduate music students at the 2012 commencement ceremony. I accepted, humbled and grateful for having the opportunity to voice my gratitude to my Berkeley family before saying good-bye.
Here is an exact transcript of the speech I gave on Sunday May 13, 2012 minus the laughs and a few improvised remarks. It was a truly memorable day for all of us, especially for all the proud mothers who were also celebrating their day. This day will always have a special place in our hearts.
Some things in life demand a lot of effort. The people you see in front of you today have made innumerable sacrifices in order achieve the maximum academic degree that a university can confer. Some of them left their families, others had to work more than one job to support their studies, while others had to make twice the effort and work thrice as many years just because they didn’t have a faculty that we usually take for granted. We all stand proud of our achievements and our hard-earned knowledge, and now we are ready to face the world. But we are also humbled, for the more we learn, the more we realize there is more to this world than we could ever hope to understand.
To my fellow colleagues I say, “congratulations”. It is you and only you who know the true value and meaning of the degree that this university rightfully bestows upon you on this memorable day. To our dear professors I say “thank you”, for performing daily that selfless and commendable act called teaching. And to the parents, relatives and loved ones of those whom I speak for, I say, “be proud”, because none of us would be here if it weren’t for you. You told us to keep going when we wanted to give up, you came to our aid when we felt alone and helpless, and you didn’t care if our education meant material discomfort for you, all you wanted for us was to succeed. So be proud because together we made it.
Wherever we go, we will carry the name of this University in our hearts and minds. This chapter of our lives is coming to a close today and this day marks the end of a journey and the beginning of a new path. Now is the time to pursue our dreams. Do not be discouraged by such mundane concerns as the state of the economy or the difficulty of landing a job. Focus instead on your goals and do not stop until you reach them. Do justice to yourself; do not compromise. Life is too short to spend it on things we don’t really want to do. Everyone will try to bring you down to earth, I say, keep dreaming.
In the moments of greatest doubt I held steadfast to my dreams. When I was told my compositions were lacking in technique, I responded by studying harmony, counterpoint and orchestration. When one of my schoolteachers tried to persuade my parents to stop me from wasting my intellect in music and put it to use instead in something more practical, I responded by applying to the Music Conservatory. When I was told that the Sibelius Academy in Finland was only meant for Europeans because, as a Latin American, I was ill-prepared to confront the excruciatingly difficult entrance examinations, I responded by becoming the first Latin American composer to be admitted to that institution. And it is that conviction that has empowered me during these past five years at Berkeley, all the way to this commencement ceremony where I am honored to speak to you.
Coming to Berkeley is one of the best decisions I have made in my life. A chain of events led me to apply here. It all started with me reading the last volume of Richard Taruskin’s “Oxford History of Western Music”, but I only knew this was the right place for me after I talked to Ed Campion, a man for whom I feel nothing but gratitude, respect and admiration. Here I have found true support and interest in my work and a great many opportunities have opened up ever since. In the past few years my music has been performed by major orchestras all across the United States. And after my graduation a lot of work is waiting for me. Renee Fleming and the Lyric Opera of Chicago have commissioned me a full-length opera to be premiered during their 2015-2016 season. I hope to see some of you then.
I want to conclude by thanking the most important people in my life, my parents Javier and Maria Elena, who are not here with me today, but who are already celebrating in my native city, Lima. My love goes to my sister Jessica, who is also obtaining her PhD in Biology from the University of Helsinki just a few weeks from now. And finally, my partner Heleno, a true music lover and my number one fan.
On behalf of the graduate students of the music department I want to thank you all for being here and sharing this very special moment with us. Thank you
To Melissa, Jim, Babs and Lisa: thank you for being there every time I needed your advice and for your invaluable help all the way to the very last detail. Simply put, I couldn’t have survived without you! To Ed, Cindy, Franck, David Milnes and David Wessel, I thank you for all the things I’ve learned from you throughout these years. You are an inspiration to me. To David Pereira and Karen: thanks for sharing your passion for this wonderful art called teaching, so that I could also share my knowledge with others. I will miss you all dearly.