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Words of advice to the Class of '86

June 16, 1986



Commencement speeches tend to deserve their reputations as the college graduate's final hurdle. But as we noted on Friday, there are memorable speeches as well. (Next year's speakers take note: These stay close to the speaker's own experience.) On Friday we quoted some talks on the subject of social commitment in the '80s. Today's excerpts concern the broader realm of life and work: Virgil Thomson, American composer . . . Musicians, in other words, own music because music owns them. Anybody who feels strongly enough about music to go through a conservatory discipline and prepare himself for dealing with the materials of it, belongs to the world of music. He's joined the family. And the history of music for the next 25 years will be the story of your family operations and your family quarrels. . . The music world is not without its economic realities. But economics are not the sense that it makes. In sport we distinguish amateurs from professionals by financial criteria. If a tennis player takes money for playing tennis, he's a professional; if he doesn't, he has kept his amateur standing. This has nothing to do with the quality of his play. And so, as a musician, you may be a professional -- that is to say, earn money -- and still be irresponsible as a musician. Or you may be an amateur, not accept fees, and practice your art according to the highest standards known to your time. Any musician who practices his art, however modestly, in full acceptance of his obligation to maintain the highest standards that he is aware of, is a real musician. . . .

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The rewards of obstinancy and cooperation (with fellow musicians) are very great. They are nothing less than the satisfaction of creating an auditory universe after your image of it. That satisfaction's worth everything and the hope of it justifies every labor, every risk.

I can't promise you anything more than that because musicians don't -- as a rule -- get rich in the business, and very few even become famous. But I've never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down. (New England Conservatory of Music, May 18) Diane Sawyer, CBS News correspondent

When I left here graduation day I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. In fact, I went back home to Louisville, Ky., and a few weeks later my father put me through a catechism that was brilliant in its simplicity. He said, ``What do you love doing? What would you do if no one ever paid you a dollar for it?'' And I said, ``Words. Writing. Reading.'' And he said, ``Where is the most adventurous place you can do what you love?'' And at the time there were no women on television in Louisville, which is why I showed up the next week at the smallest UHF station in my perfectly coordinated, dress-for-success outfit and announced that I was applying for a job as a serious journalist and commentator, and that's how I started my career as the nation's most inept local weather girl. (Wellesley College, May 30) Benjamin Weir, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), former hostage in Lebanon