Music director Riccardo Muti urges graduating students to communicate, increase dialogue

Rebecca Savransky, Summer Editor

Riccardo Muti told the Northwestern graduating class of 2014 that the world needs to learn to communicate, emphasizing that with all of the different methods of communication available today, “people still don’t seem to understand each other.”

With a focus on the importance of dialogue, Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director, gave the commencement address Friday morning at NU’s 156th annual commencement ceremony.

About 13,000 people gathered on Ryan Field for the ceremony and about 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students, according to the University.

Muti discussed how he chose his path of becoming a musician, noting in addition to studying in a conservatory, he studied philosophy in an effort to better understand the relationship between music and society.

He said as dialogue disappears in an increasingly developed world, music remains a method of communication that transcends boundaries.

“Music is not something that belongs only to the elite, because it is one of the few things that can bring this terrible world together,” he said.

Muti said more than 20 years ago he had an idea to do a “concert for friendship.” He wanted to travel to troubled cities and bring music to the people there. Upon traveling to Sarajevo after the city was almost completely destroyed, he said the first thing the people wanted was music.

He told attendees about other trips he took where he was able to bring music to those in need and with that, form connections.

“Music speaks to the heart of people,” he said. “It doesn’t know the differences between peoples. There is no need to show a passport to join an orchestra or to experience music.”

Throughout his speech, he emphasized the importance of music and communication. He told attendees about the impact music can have on individual lives, and about its power as a nearly universal language.

“I know that music has the ability to bring people together,” he said. “People who don’t speak the same language and otherwise would not understand each other in terms of culture, ethnicity and religion. Each of you, no matter what your expertise, has the same ability to bring people together.”

Muti concluded his speech by asking that attendees make their voice heard in a world progressing toward a lack of dialogue and what he called a broken form of English.

“Each of you will have a personal experience that is unique that will enable you to express your voice in a world where only dialogue is the hope of the future,” he said.

During the ceremony, five people — including Muti and singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder — were awarded honorary degrees in recognition of their accomplishments.

After the conferring of doctoral degrees, graduating senior Colette Ghunim spoke to attendees about her studies abroad and the many opportunities NU gave her during her time as a student.

She said after studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt, she had experiences she would take with her for the rest of her life and that shaped the course of her NU career.

“No matter how much we try to define ourselves by our work, college major or social circles, we are merely humans, still trying to understand our world,” she said.

Ghunim concluded her speech, saying that upon graduation, the class of 2014 will be granted a VISA that never expires and has the potential to take them to unexplored terrains. She said although the future remains unclear, the skills and experiences gained at NU will give them the tools they need to succeed.

“We may not know exactly where our paths are leading, but if we follow what makes our hearts beat faster, what makes us feel so alive, only then do we discover a purpose that is greater beyond ourselves,” she said.

At the end of the ceremony, University president Morton Schapiro conferred the graduate and undergraduate degrees, before the singing of the University’s alma mater.

Muti left attendees with the message of the importance of dialogue and of expressing oneself.

“Go back and communicate. To say I love you is not enough. You have to express your feelings, your love,” he said. “The breakdown of language is the breakdown of dialogue.”

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