Convocation Remarks from Student Speaker Robyn Smith

Returning master's student Robyn Smith kicked off the school year with remarks on finding community and personal growth through campus clubs—the Black Student Union, the NEC Christian Fellowship, and the Initiative for Social Change.

Robyn Smith delivers remarks at an NEC podium in Jordan Hall.

Hello and good morning to you all. Thank you for allowing me to speak to this beautiful community known as NEC.

Standing here looking at all of you, I see beauty, diversity, and strength. I see the hours you devote to your craft because it exudes diligence, drive, and the compelling light in your eyes. It is that same light that has inspired me during my time here.  Every day I can count on receiving world class education but most importantly to be musically inspired and challenged by my peers and teachers.  I’m sure the returning students can agree with me when I say, “This community is special.”

I remember my thoughts four years ago:

“Am I really going to conservatory?”

“Is it REAL college?”

“Who will be my friends and what will my circle look like?”

What I didn’t know was that everyone would be my circle. Literally, NEC is tiny. I also didn’t realize I was joining such a comforting, mixed, and rigorous community. I quickly met some of my lifelong friends and ventured to various events, concerts, and meetings across campus: chamber orchestra, Phil and symphony concerts, the Jazz department’s celebration of Frank Sinatra, Gospel ensemble concerts, recitals, and much more. I wanted to hear it all and be amongst the people that were creating.

Robyn Smith and David Norville giving opening remarks at a 2018 concert in honor of alumna Coretta Scott King, presented by the Black Student Union.

Sooner or later, I found myself in a Black Student Union meeting. I sat in listening to Nedelka Prescod, Robbie Pate, Alex James, and Ryan Sands talk about ways to reach the black community and how to honor our culture through panels, events, concerts and community engagement. Sitting there with wide eyes, I remember Nedelka Prescod saying, “Ohh, look at that face—she’s a baby.” I was.

Until that moment, I had not seen the NEC community in this way and I had not felt so proud of the color of my skin, my culture and its place on this campus. I knew that there were few of us, but I know what that meant for me. I was hooked. I found something that was culturally fulfilling which has been very much a part of personal growth. 

Later on that same semester I bumped into Marie Adams and Dan Raney passing out cookies in the dorms. You know the practice rooms across the street? Yeah, we lived there. Leaving the bathroom I was greeted with this bright face and a huge smile telling me about the campus Bible study. I lit up because I never expected to share my spirituality with others while being away from home. I didn’t speak of religion until this day, but I was overjoyed and extremely comfortable. Marie and I met every week and she became a spiritual mentor to me. 

The Bible study consisted of Christians, non-Christians, Jews, muslims, and even atheists. We all were curious and voiced our opinions and personal situations despite our different beliefs. The environment was simply open and loving. I met some of my closest friends in the NEC Christian Fellowship.

After being hooked on BSU and hooked on Jesus, I found myself leading these groups, serving as president for two years with BSU and one year with NECCF.  Encouraged by those before and around me, I was involved but passionate about encouraging others to do so as well.

You know the saying, “You are the company you keep”?  Well, looking to my left and right, there was one of my best friends Darynn Dean with David Norville starting a new club organization: the Initiative for Social Change, an action based group that is committed to social change here on campus and throughout the community. I remember the very first meeting after an uproar in our political climate.  We all gathered in one of the St. Botolph classrooms. It had to have been almost 50 people crammed in one room voicing their opinions, listening, and brainstorming ideas to change whatever we wanted.

I found that I was so passionate about these groups because each of them broke a boundary that pushed me out of my comfort zone. They were committed to reaching everyone and met me where I was in my personal growth. Breaking boundaries means change; and change is fundamental to our growth. I’m not sure if I’d be the person I am today if I didn’t stretch myself and become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Robyn Smith plays trombone
Robyn performing at the 2019 community kickoff for the Boston Bridge to Equity and Achievement in Music (BEAM) initiative.

I want to encourage you to realize what is surrounding you. Students from all walks of life, beliefs, genders, racial backgrounds and sexual orientations. Get to know this community because it will elevate you and your music making just as it has done for me. What we do as artists involves personal encounters, and if these personal encounters aren’t filled with compassion then what will our music sound like?

In each of my encounters with different groups on this campus, I was met without the “conservatory stiffness” that I expected. The compassion I felt moved moved me to do more, be more, and expect nothing less. Let’s continue to nurture this community together so that we can break more boundaries, unify, and achieve the compassion we need to reach hearts through our musical gifts.

So, I pride myself on making lists, because when everything gets busy sometimes you just need a pen and paper to get things together. Here are some survival tips:

• Lean on the people that are here

• Use the resources (library, printing, teachers/professors)

• Check your email

• Be a positive force

• Say hi to people on campus

• Take naps

and

• Don’t be afraid to be involved…you still have time to practice.

"The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members." —NEC Alumna  Coretta Scott King.

Welcome to another school year here at the New England Conservatory of Music.

What we do as artists involves personal encounters, and if these personal encounters aren’t filled with compassion then what will our music sound like?
Robyn Smith ’19, ’21 MM