Commencement 2021: Esther Tien ’20 MM, Student Speaker for the Class of 2020

NEC's 150th Commencement on May 23, 2021 included not one, but two student speakers—Esther Tien ’20 MM, who spoke on behalf of the class of 2020, and Robbie Bui ’21, who spoke on behalf of the class of 2021.

Esther Tien, wearing a graduation cap and gown, opens her arms wide and flings confetti while speaking at the podium at Commencement 2021.
Esther flung confetti while congratulating the Classes of 2020 and 2021 on their achievements during a difficult year.

Oh, I'm shaking. Okay!

Thank you, President Kalyn, faculty, staff, and fellow classmates for giving me the opportunity to share my brief remarks on this joyous day.

Wow. I can't believe we're all in this building—where the majority of the class of 2020 has not set foot in for over a year, and dang, it feels good!

Classes of 2020 and 2021: we made it!

This is a phrase I once thought was so cliche, but has now become comforting to hear after a turbulent year: to be where we are right now already speaks volumes of our steadfastness and strength. So, congratulations to you all.

On my first day at NEC, I would have never imagined that my last day would look remotely close to this, but through all the change I can remember why I came to NEC, and that's the reason why I stand here today.

We come to NEC because we love music and want to refine our craft, and in a few moments, we will leave NEC with a diploma proudly in hand. Your diploma shows you and the world an accomplishment you have achieved, and while it represents your triumphs as a musician, it does not define who you are. Your passion for music and inspired ideas can never be reduced to a single piece of paper.

I'm sure that a lot of a lot of us have felt the blows of failures and rejection since March 11th of 2020, when NEC announced a shutdown. I found myself in tears every day getting rejected by job after job after job, all while watching my bank account dry up, working four part-time jobs, and living in fear of racial hate crimes I see daily in the news, knowing it could have been me.

I was left in so much fear, knowing that we graduated into a time performers weren't needed anymore. I started asking myself, “Why am I still on this path?” We learned a glory of applause and are presented with the idea that nothing else is an option.

When I felt as though I was in a dark tunnel, lost and trying to find a way out, there were a few nights when my roommates and I would listen to or play music together in the living room. Shout out to Tiffany Chang, Mari Nagahara, Kevonna Shuford, and our honorary roommate, Motti Fang-Bentov, who are all also graduating today as class of 2020 and 2021—I love them so much, with all my heart.

Yeah. In those moments, I was reminded that my love for music could be so pure, so organic, so simple, and the importance of my failures and successes faded. In those moments, I remembered my passion, my desire to share love through music.

While walking in a dark tunnel has not been easy, there is nothing I would change about it. I have not yet met a failure too great to overcome, because I remembered my passion, and trusted the process, or more specifically, I trusted the one in control of the process.

Not being in control is scary, but fighting for control hinders growth.

Letting go allowed failures and hardships to humble me, and brought more opportunities than I could have imagined—such as my newfound love for teaching and researching. Who knew? I wasn't really a good student when I was at NEC.

Remember your passion, and you'll have a rock to stand on in the wind and waves. Yes, we will fail—but the love and passion which began it all will fuel our journeys and bring us together again further down the road.

We made it! Sorry, I have to get the confetti—congratulations, class of 2020 and 2021!

Stay hopeful, always be kind, and remember the passion that brought you to NEC. You are so much more than the degree you're earning today. Thank you!

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