NEC Celebrates Largest Graduating Class at Symphony Hall

New England Conservatory celebrated the largest graduating class in its history on May 21, 2023 at Symphony Hall, awarding honorary degrees to George E. Lewis, Ann Hobson Pilot, and David Zinman. The 152nd Commencement ceremony featured remarks from Lewis as well as Alumni Speaker Mei-Ann Chen ’95, ’98 MM and Student Speaker Brittany Bryant ’23.

George E. Lewisa wears doctoral regalia and addresses the class of 2023 from the stage at Symphony Hall
Composer, musicologist, and “AI grandfather” George E. Lewis hon. DM ’23

Mei-Ann Chen wearing doctoral regalia, at the podium, clasps her fist and smiles
“No one can make it alone,” said Mei-Ann Chen ’95, ’98 MM, who addressed graduates with a spirit of camaraderie.

“It truly takes a village to raise a professional musician,” said Alumni Speaker and noted conductor Mei-Ann Chen ’95, ’98 MM,

echoing the spirit of collaboration and camaraderie heard throughout this year’s Commencement exercises. “No one can make it alone. Class of 2023, congratulations!”

“Amazing achievements such as yours are only possible with the support of communities of practice, desire, and love,”

said Commencement speaker George E. Lewis. The composer and musicologist noted the Great Migration of African Americans from south to north, and his own 50-year participation in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians as examples of communities taking "personal and collective responsibility" for each other through values of “adaptability, communitarianism, and improvisation.”

Honoring David Zinman, Ann Hobson Pilot, and George E. Lewis

Ann Hobson Pilot receives her honorary doctoral hood from Marcus Thompson.
Ann Hobson Pilot hon. DM ’23 receives her honorary doctoral hood from Marcus Thompson.

In addition to Lewis, honorary degrees were conferred upon David Zinman, noted conductor of the Conductor Laureate of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, and Ann Hobson Pilot, who broke boundaries of race and gender as principal harpist for the National Symphony and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Zinman was introduced by NEC Philharmonia conductor Hugh Wolff and honored for both his musical and community-oriented achievements — in particular, his beloved 10pm “Tonhalla Late” concerts, which drew new, younger audiences to orchestral music.

Hobson Pilot was honored for her work as a groundbreaking harpist and champion of underserved students, both by NEC viola faculty member Marcus Thompson and by fellow honoree George E. Lewis, who noted, “I can't believe that I'm addressing you from the very same stage where the great Ann Hobson Pilot made history, paving the way for me to address you today.”

Honoring the largest class in NEC history

President Andrea Kalyn extends her hand to a graduate
“The world needs musical minds. The world needs you,” said President Kalyn.

Board of Trustees Chair Thomas W. Blumenthal welcomed graduates, families, faculty, donors, and supporters, and President Andrea Kalyn encouraged graduates to trust their skills, knowledge, and experiences:

“A Conservatory education, even without the complexities of a global pandemic, is not for the faint of heart,”

said Kalyn,

“But you have been flexible, imaginative, focused, and driven. And having ‘done the thing,’ you should never sell yourself short…You have accomplished so much and you've done it in a world that has not made that exactly easy.”

A trumpeter in a suit and a clarinetist in a graduation cap and gown lead a New Orleans "second line"-style entrance of graduates through the rear doors at Symphony Hall.
Mark Tipton ’24 DMA and Christopher Ferrari ’23 led the procession with New Orleans style jazz.

Due to the size of this year’s graduating class — the largest in NEC’s history — this year’s ceremony moved from Jordan Hall to U.S. National Historic Landmark Symphony Hall, home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Just across the street from NEC, Symphony Hall is a second home for many NEC faculty, many of whom play in the BSO, and students who enjoy free access to concerts as part of their NEC education.

A Jazz processional, a classical interlude, and a contemporary musical arts finale

As families and supporters waited for the ceremony to begin, Symphony Hall was suddenly filled with the sounds of a New Orleans-style jazz rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and this year’s graduates walked in “second line”-style behind clarinetist Christopher Ferrari ’23, trombonist Michael Gerace ’23 MM, trumpeter Mark Tipton ’24 DMA, and percussionist Alex Yoo ’23.

A fiddler in cap and gown and a guitarist in a suit play on Symphony Hall stage during graduation
Contemporary Musical Arts students Carson McHaney ’23 MM and G Korth-Rockwell ’24 performed the recessional medley.

Additional musical selections gave a nod to the three areas of musical study at NEC — classical, jazz, and Contemporary Musical Arts — with fiddle-guitar duo Carson McHaney ’23 MM and G Korth-Rockwell ’24 representing the Contemporary Musical Arts department for the recessional, and a performance of Tcherepnin’s Suite for Solo Cello Op. 76, Movement 4 performed by Leland Ko ’24 AD, who paired his bow with an enthusiastic thumbs up for his graduating peers.

Awards for students and faculty

Yoona Kim ’23 MM won the Tourjée Alumni Scholarship and the Peter Lyman Row Global Musicianship Award.
Contemporary Musical Arts graduate Yoona Kim ’23 MM won the Tourjée Alumni Scholarship and the Peter Lyman Row Global Musicianship Award.

Two graduating students were called to the stage many times for awards and honors — Yoona Kim ’23 MM, a Contemporary Musical Arts graduate who was awarded the Tourjée Alumni Scholarship and the Peter Lyman Row Global Musicianship Award. Voice major and Fulbright Award winner Brittany Bryant ’23 was selected as student speaker, but also was recognized with the Award for Excellence in the Liberal Arts and with the esteemed George Whitefield Chadwick Medal. Bryant was also awarded a 2023 Fulbright to continue her studies in Italy. 

Notably, two students received the Chadwick Medal, which is given in honor of an exceptional undergraduate annually: Bryant and Jazz Studies senior Christopher Ferrari ’23, heard on clarinet during the New Orleans processional. The Gunther Schuller medal, which honors an exceptional graduate student, was awarded to collaborative pianist Michael Banwarth ’23 MM.

Brittany Bryant smiles with cap and gown in Symphony Hall, with other graduates behind her.
Voice major Brittany Bryant ’23 was selected as student speaker, and also won the Award for Excellence in the Liberal Arts and with the George Whitefield Chadwick Medal.

In addition, Olivia Wilkins-Becker ’23, Jacob Earnhart ’23, and Emiliano López ’23 won the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Spark Award; Andrew Minoo Dixon ’23 won the Donald Martino Award for Excellence in Composition; and Cynthia Meyers won the Louis and Adrienne Krasner Teaching Excellence Award.

The ceremony honored new Faculty Emeriti Ruth Lepson, Charles Peltz, and Deborah Stein, and celebrated the retirement of faculty members Karen Holvik, Martha Strongin Katz, Charles Peltz, Richard Ranti, Bert Seager, and Deborah Stein. Also honored were faculty and staff members celebrating major anniversaries, including Lisa Nigris and Robert Winkley (35 years), Frank Carlberg, Patrick Keppel, and Jason Palmer (25 years), and Guy Fishman, Richard Frost, Max Levinson, James Markey, and Cynthia Meyers (10 years).

Enthusiasm and pride

President Kalyn noted the optimism that this year's graduates represent:

“I am genuinely excited for all that you're going to do with your careers and with your lives. You're going to create your own future; you’re going to create the future of music; and frankly, you're going to create the future of society.

“The world needs musical minds. The world needs you.”


Andrew Minoo Dixon smiles with cap and gown and award
Andrew Minoo Dixon ’23 won the Donald Martino Award for Excellence in Composition.
Amir Siraj '17 Prep, '23 Harvard/NEC was among those who added a festive touch to his graduation regalia.
Amir Siraj '17 Prep, '23 Harvard/NEC was among those who added a festive touch to his graduation regalia.
Two graduates lean their heads together and smile while wearing caps and gowns
A view from the stage of Commencement 2023 in Symphony Hall.
Students leap into the air smiling and wearing graduation caps and gowns
Four smiling students in graduation caps and gowns, with historic instruments on display in the background at Symphony Hall
A graduate smiles with degree in hand while President Andrea Kalyn looks on
The world needs musical minds. The world needs you.
President Andrea Kalyn