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Students, Faculty + Alumni

“Here’s to You!” YSM Class of 2024

commencement 2024

During his charge to the graduating class on May 20, School of Music Dean José García-León focused on reframing doubt. “Being a musician can be very difficult at times,” he said. “You might face setbacks … You might even wonder: Is this the right path for me?” He quoted Maya Angelou, who said, sharing insight into her own anxiety, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” García-León, leading his first YSM Commencement as dean, urged graduates, in a speech titled Here’s to You, to revisit their achievements in moments of uncertainty. “I hope that if you experience moments of difficulty, you will remember everything you have already accomplished here,” he said. “You were accepted, have succeeded, and are now graduating from one of the most prestigious and respected universities. You’ve practiced or composed for hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours. You’ve mastered extremely difficult works or written incredible music, and you’ve done all of that under the watchful eye of some of the best musicians alive. … You’ve already accomplished so much. You should feel proud of what has gotten you to this moment today. You should use this to motivate you to go forward when the road seems challenging—and remind yourself of the incredible power of music and how it can affect others.”

García-León’s words of encouragement were delivered with a warm smile after he presented three special awards and the school’s prestigious Samuel Sanford Simons Medal. The Harriet Gibbs Fox Memorial Prize, which is awarded to the first-year student who achieved the highest grade-point average, went to composer Lily Koslow ’25MM. The Horatio Parker Memorial Prize, which is awarded to a returning student who was selected by the faculty as best fulfilling Dean Parker’s lofty musical ideals, was given to percussionist Michael Yeung ’22MM ’23MMA ’24AD. And the Emily Anne Payne Dean’s Prize, officially renamed in memory of the late cellist and YSM alum (’99MM), went to pianist Elisabeth Tsai ’23MM ’24MMA.

In presenting the Sanford Medal to Professor in the Practice of Violin Ani Kavafian, García-León praised the generosity Kavafian brings to her teaching practice and said, “Ani has inspired everyone here,” adding that students have remarked that Kavafian’s belief in them often exceeds their own. “Some students call her their musical parent,” García-León said. Kavafian said she was “honored and humbled” to receive the award for distinguished service to music.

Bringing the ceremony to a close, García-León continued the “beautiful tradition” of inviting those gathered to sing Shubert’s An die Musik. The sing-along was conducted by Sarah Blythe Shapiro ’24MM and featured clarinetist Jonathan López ’24MM and pianist Derek Leo Wang ’24AD. The Yale School of Music Brass ensemble—student trumpeters Will Rich ’25MM and Jacob Rose ’25MM, Frank Tamburro, and Visiting Associate Professor of Trumpet Kevin Cobb; student horn player Oved Rico ’25MM and Professor in the Practice of Horn William Purvis; student trombonist Jude Morris ’25MM and Lecturer in Trombone Scott Hartman; and tubist Alex Friedman ’25MM— bookended the ceremony with processional and recessional music.

Those performances added spirit and emotion to García-León’s parting words to graduates: “You have already achieved so much, and we are all so proud of you. Today, we celebrate your Commencement and the beginning of your next great chapter. Here is to you! You are our inspiration.”