Commencement: Alumni Speaker Ashleigh Gordon ’08 MM

“While you have this incredible NEC family tree to support you in the years to come, know that you are the root source for your greatest aspirations. You, the limitless potential of your creativity, the very qualities that make you who you are, are your greatest asset.”

Ashleigh Gordon speaks at the podium during Commencement 2019

Congratulations to the class of 2019, you made it! You made it to this day through what has undoubtedly been an unforgettable period of challenges, growth, laughter and learning. You made it through years of early morning rehearsals and late night practice sessions. Congrats. You made it.

So now what?

This was the burning question on my mind, the minds of many in my graduating class, and—not surprisingly—on the minds of my parents. I graduated from NEC with my masters in viola performance in 2008 with a long list of things I knew I didn’t—and did—want.

I knew I didn’t want to be in an orchestra or teaching at a college.

I knew I did want to have my autonomy and create and manage my own ensemble.

I knew I didn’t want to be a soloist.

I knew I did want to follow my passions which included playing chamber music—especially the crazy new music stuff—teaching youth, and organizing.

I knew I didn’t want to become complacent.

I knew I wanted to continue to grow, have roots but not feel rooted to any one particular place or thing.

I knew I wanted to be happy and do something meaningful for my community.

In the years following my time at NEC, I learned to trust myself, embrace the things I knew I wanted, fail (and learn) often, take risks, and straddle the fine line between planning and letting the road take me where it wanted.

Anthony R. Green and Ashleigh Gordon on stage with a string quartet
Anthony R. Green ’08 MM and Ashleigh Gordon ’08 MM

Six years ago, fellow NEC alumnus Anthony R. Green and I found our lives converging in ways neither one of us could have planned for, but both felt were in total alignment with what we wanted. He, a classically-trained Black composer and pianist, and I, a classically-trained Black violist, teamed up to create an organization that celebrates our identities, cultural achievements, and rich histories through a musical tradition that rarely does so.

This systemic lack of recognition and appreciation inspired us to continue challenging what and who are awarded a place in the great musical canon and what narratives are amplified on and off the concert stage. Had it not been for our two years together as students at NEC, Anthony and I would have never met and formed Castle of our Skins, a concert and educational series right here in Boston dedicated to celebrating Black artistry through music and other arts.

I’d like you to take a look around you. Surrounding you are your fellow classmates, your mentors, teachers, parents, family members, friends. In this space are people who you may have never connected with while studying here but, six years from now, will be crucial to your personal and professional development.

Seated somewhere in this hall, is the person who will pass your name along for an opportunity that will change the course of your life. The person who will be on that hiring committee, at the other end of that grant panel review, or scouting out new talent to join their artist roster. The person who will contract for that big-once-in-a-lifetime-only-gig, be the dean of your future academic workplace, your stand partner in that dream ensemble, the person whose couch you’ll sleep on when you book that next tour or audition, your boss, your business partner, and maybe...even...who knows...your life partner.

That person may literally be within fifty feet of you right now. You may not fully realize it, but you’re part of an enormous web of personal and professional touch points with the people in this room. And, if that weren’t enough, you are about to become officially adopted into the largest extended family of musicians, administrators, art enthusiasts, activists, researchers and educators. Also known as the NEC alumni community. Know that your network of support starts here, extends globally, and spans across multiple generations.

Graduates raise their hands in Jordan Hall
Graduates raise their hands in response to Gordon's alumni address.

I’d like you to indulge me for a moment and lift up your hands. Take a look at them. Touch them. Touch your arms, your heart. This person—YOU—is a unique, hard working, beautiful force capable of great things. While you have this incredible NEC family tree to support you in the years to come, know that YOU are the root source for your greatest aspirations. YOU, the limitless potential of your creativity, the very qualities that make you who you are, are your greatest asset.

For me, owning the fact that I am a Black-woman-violist, who wanted to carve my own path and bring my community along for the journey proved to be my strongest platform. Remain true to yourself, move from a place of authenticity, know what you what you want—and don’t want. You will be unstoppable. Best wishes living your true, authentic self and welcome to the NEC alumni community.

More Commencement News:

Jessye Norman Addresses the Class of 2019

Student Speaker Darynn Dean ’19

Photos: Congratulations to the Class of 2019