Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Class of 2009 graduates despite storm

Members of Northwestern’s class of 2009 woke up Friday morning to torrential rain. Though the clouds parted briefly that afternoon as they were awarded their degrees, jazz legend Wynton Marsalis warned them that the respite wouldn’t last – literally or metaphorically.

“You will be rained on,” he said in his commencement address. “You will go through many things that will force you to confront the frontier of life. Always remember the dream.”

Administrators made the call Friday morning to keep the ceremony at Ryan Field instead of at an emergency rain location. Ten minutes before the scheduled start time, coordinators told speakers to follow an “abbreviated” schedule to accommodate the weather.

Marsalis said he embraced the charge to shorten his remarks. Before beginning to speak, he held up the transcript of his prepared speech and promised that he would read only from the first and last pages.

“That’s the first thing I’m going to tell you tonight,” he said. “Always be appropriate to the situation.”

Marsalis, a world-famous jazz artist and scholar known for his traditionalist views of the genre, was the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. He is the only person to have received Grammy Awards for both classical and jazz recordings, and the only artist to have won a Grammy in five consecutive years. He is also known for his philanthropic work, notably his work with victims of Hurricane Katrina. Marsalis received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree.

The power of music was a recurring theme in Marsalis’s address. In addition to speaking, Marsalis sang and played the trumpet, telling graduates to apply the lessons learned from jazz in uncertain times.

“In jazz, we play the blues,” he said. “The blues can survive the blues. Congratulations, all. You have survived.”

Marsalis referred directly to the challenges of post-graduate life, drawing a distinction between the college experience and the real world.

“In receiving that expensive piece of paper … you have exceeded in the realm of ideas,” he said. “Well done. And now, welcome to the world of free choice. A sloppy, messy, unruly world.”

Marsalis reminded attendees of the power of music before picking up his trumpet to serenade the attendees.

“Your song will be the embodiment of your dream,” he said. “Tend to your dream and sing your song … always the homing pigeons of your song and your dream. It tells us everything’s going to be all right.”

The commencement, NU’s 151st, was the last ceremony for University President Henry Bienen and Board of Trustees Chairman Pat Ryan, both of whom are retiring. Bienen and Ryan were both awarded honorary doctorate degrees in Humane Letters Friday night.

Bienen kept short his last address to new graduates, which doubled as a farewell speech. He thanked his family and his coworkers, and said that serving at NU had been “an honor and a privilege.”

“We are so proud of you,” he said. “I am so proud of you. I hope you all go live good and decent lives.”

Rene Fabricio Jovel, Weinberg ’09, gave an address to parents and family members, pumping his fist and repeating President Barack Obama’s famous “Si Se Puede/Yes We Can” catchphrase several times.

“We are here on this commencement day because we never gave up,” he said. “Anything was and is possible.”

The rain that had been threatening throughout the ceremony finally came just as Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein gave the benediction. It escalated to a full-blown downpour as the new graduates filed off the football field, contemplating Marsalis’ weather-related advice.

“A little rain never hurt nobody,” he had said. “Feel it!”

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Class of 2009 graduates despite storm