Music filled the room at Convocation—but not quite the way you’d think.
Yes, there was the traditional Baroque processional, with organ and soaring trumpet, as the faculty entered Johnson Chapel in full regalia, plus a poignant performance of “Three Gifts,” by the Glee Club.
But in his Convocation speech, President Michael A. Elliott riffed off the idea of music itself—for that theme jumped out of the application essays from the class of 2027. He read every one of these “remarkable documents” in marathon sessions this summer, he revealed. The experience felt “like reading a very postmodern, quirky novel.”
The students sitting here this Labor Day night, he went on, had covered many subjects, from fly fishing to entrepreneurship to the Mohegan language. But an impressive number explored the power of making and hearing jazz, opera, hip-hop and symphonies, and mused about “everything from Beethoven to Bad Bunny,” which made the crowd laugh. And there were “a shocking number of references to ’80s rock,” he added. More laughs.
Said Elliott: “So I have been asking myself: Why does music matter so much to this class?” Music connects us, he reasoned, and helps forge identity, generational and otherwise.
“But music also offers an analogy for thinking about education itself,” he said. “It is at once individual and collective; it requires diligence and rewards mastery; it evolves and changes.”
In the U.S., Elliott continued, authors have used musical metaphors to explain the promise and peril of democracy, from Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” to describe street opera to W.E.B. Du Bois who, in The Souls of Black Folk, started each chapter with a quotation from spirituals.
A liberal arts education is something like music, said Elliott: “It should allow you self-expression, and a medium of connection—and it should also unearth difficult truths from the past; it should present to you unfamiliar and unnerving perspectives on the future. It will require you to listen.”