Commencement Ceremony 2007

Keeping It Real: Honorees, Students Talk About Making Music from the Heart, Finding One's Voice, Believing in Oneself

For most Berklee students, getting a degree takes four years or so. For Gloria Estefan, it took a bit longer.

"It took me 32 years to get this degree, from the school of hard knocks, I might add, but always with a lot of love," she said before receiving an honorary doctorate at Berklee's commencement ceremony this past weekend, held at Boston University's Agganis Arena.

As it turns out, Estefan, who majored in psychology and communications and minored in French at the University of Miami, never intended to make a living in the music industry.

"Berklee always loomed large in my world, but as something that I couldn't have because, quite honestly, I never thought I'd end up doing what I'm doing," Estefan told more than 800 graduates and nearly 7,000 guests during her commencement address. "I was incredibly shy as a child. Music was my first love. It was something that came over me, like breathing, like the need to eat. So I never really planned on making a career out of it.

But now, the "Queen of Latin Pop" couldn't imagine it any other way.

Estefan can trace the beginnings of her music career to a wedding reception in 1975, when Emilio Estefan asked her to sit in with his band, the Miami Latin Boys. He eventually asked her to join the band, which was renamed the Miami Sound Machine, and later to marry him.

"Needless to say, it changed my life," said Estefan, who has realized enormous success as a crossover star. Emilio Estefan, one of the international music market's most successful managers, producers, and songwriters, produces Gloria's CDs and has produced artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Shakira, and Ricky Martin.

Along with the Grammy Award–winning Estefans, U2's guitarist the Edge and jazz pianist and composer Andrew Hill were presented with honorary doctorates in recognition of their myriad achievements in the industry. Hill's wife, Joanne Robinson Hill, accepted the degree on behalf of her husband, who died unexpectedly in April.

The power of music to heal

In her remarks, Estefan urged graduates to make music "from the heart."

"It has to be something that says something for you. How can you talk about something if you don't live it, if you don't experience it? In order to make the music, live [life] to its fullest," she said.

When it comes to writing music, Estefan takes her job seriously. "Music had always been such a healing force to me that it became an incredible responsibility to me when I was writing to really think about what my music was going to do to somebody when they heard it," she said. "Because other people's music had moved me. It had given me hope. And it made me laugh and cry."

The Edge, known for his minimalist guitar playing that has largely defined U2's sound, also spoke about the importance of authenticity. "The most important goal for you as musicians and composers is to find your own voice."

He emphasized the value of collaboration. "Collaborating with talented people is not easy," he said. "But it's really the way to shine. You shine brighter if you are working with really great people." The Edge thanked his bandmates, who include Bono, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr.

'The beginning of bigger and better things to come'

Nakia Simon, the student speaker, implored her fellow graduates to get rid of self-doubt. "To receive you must achieve, to achieve you must believe, and to believe you must relieve…Relieve doubt," she said. "To relieve doubt means whatever it is that is causing you to believe that you're not good enough, not smart enough, not talented enough. You must remove doubt from the equation. Say, 'Doubt, peace out.'"

Simon, a contemporary writing and production and music business/management dual major, also pointed out that the commencement marked the "very beginning of bigger and better things to come."

"And as good as your senior projects, senior portfolios, and senior demos are—and should be, considering where you're graduating from—I believe that greater works shall we do."