Rita Moreno, the Isley Brothers, Lucian Grainge, Milton Nascimento Honored at Commencement

Rita Moreno delivered the 2016 commencement speech to more than 900 graduates, and received an honorary doctorate alongside the Isley Brothers, Lucian Grainge, and Milton Nascimento.

May 7, 2016

More than 900 graduates from 68 countries received degrees on May 7 at Berklee’s commencement ceremony. Berklee President Roger H. Brown presented honorary doctor of music degrees to music legends Rita Moreno, the Isley Brothers, Lucian Grainge, and Milton Nascimento. Moreno delivered the commencement address to the graduating class and an estimated audience of nearly 7,000 guests at the Agganis Arena. The annual commencement concert, held the previous evening at the Agganis Arena, featured some of the college’s most accomplished students paying tribute to the honorees with performances of music associated with their careers.

In what is surely a first for a Berklee commencement address, Moreno broke into a rap mid-speech. She rhymed, “You must have the au-dacity, the pluck, the grit the pers-pi-cacity. Your talent may be terrific, your writing pro-lific—but do you have the mo-ti-vation to use your cre-a-tion for this gen-er-ation, to give it the passion, the voice to speak its choice? Will you invent the vo-cab-u-lary of dis-o-nance for love, for good, for rev-o-lution, if needed, in the ins-ti-tution of society, should it fail to provide the variety to include all people, races, kinds? If it is blind to the human condition, will you call it to contrition? Speak truth to power, infuse the news—there are other views to choose.”

Watch Moreno's commencement address as well as other commencement highlights on this playlist:

To great cheers, she added, “Yo, I’m sayin’ write your score for more than popularity—live life with clarity—of who you are—your worth on earth. Don’t try to stop the critics. Keep writin’ the lyrics. Do that and pass the master class.”

Ernie Isley, moved by the previous evening’s student tribute concert, accepted the doctorate with these words: “Berklee, I want you to know, last night, you outdid yourselves. You’re professionals. Ronald and I, and in the spirit of all the brothers, appreciate it beyond words, and appreciate you. And I’m fully confident that the future of music rests in good hands because of Berklee.”

View highlights from the 2016 commencement concert.

Lucian Grainge also praised the graduates in his acceptance. “The respect that I have for you, this class, your graduation, your contributions, and your musicianship - I’m in awe of you...I’m very honored and humbled to be here. I want to thank you for this honorary doctorate…[and] congratulate you all, really well done. And I hope that you have as much joy from music as I have done in my career.”

President Brown, in his introduction of Milton Nascimento, quoted jazz legend Wayne Shorter, who said, “As a Brazilian asset, Milton’s cultural value cannot be measured. Milton‘s treasure can be divided in ways not yet imagined.”

This year’s honorary doctorate recipients were recognized for their achievements in contemporary music, for their enduring contributions to popular culture, and for the influence their careers and music have had on Berklee’s international student body. Past recipients include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Loretta Lynn, Juan Luis Guerra, Annie Lennox, Paco de Lucia, Carole King, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, George Clinton, Julio Iglesias, Plácido Domingo, and A. R. Rahman.

About Berklee’s Class of 2016

This year's class hails from 68 countries, including South Korea, Canada, Japan, Russia, China, Chile, India, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Norway, Iceland, Iran, Egypt, Slovenia, and Kenya. The graduates will follow in the footsteps of alumni who are innovators in music business, education, music therapy, production, and every area of performance and writing. Berklee alumni are winners of more than 300 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, including Esperanza Spalding, Quincy Jones, John Mayer, Diana Krall, Imagine Dragons, Melissa Etherdige, Gary Burton, Juan Luis Guerra, Lalah Hathaway, and professors Terri Lyne Carrington, Danilo Pérez, and Paula Cole.

Listen to an interview with the 2016 commencement speaker, Rita Moreno '16H: