NEC’s 150th Annual Commencement Exercises to be Held on May 23

New England Conservatory (NEC) announces gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples as its 150th annual commencement speaker at its commencement exercises on Sunday, May 23, at 10 a.m.

The ceremonies will take place in historic Jordan Hall and be streamed on NEC’s website ( NEC will also bestow honorary Doctor of Music (hon. D.M.) degrees on five distinguished musicians: Carl J. Atkins, Founding Chair of NEC’s Jazz Studies Department; Emanuel Ax, classical pianist; Deborah Borda, President and CEO of the New York Philharmonic; Wu Man, pipa virtuoso; and Mavis Staples. 

Staples will give her virtual commencement address to the combined graduating classes of 2020 and 2021.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate NEC’s Classes of 2020 and 2021 at our 150th commencement ceremony,” says NEC President Andrea Kalyn. “The past year has tested us all, and I am especially proud of our NEC graduates, who have prevailed in developing and sharing their artistry—whether streaming a concert from their home or from Jordan Hall, performing private virtual concerts for COVID patients, or teaching online lessons to front-line workers. They advance humanity through their music, and I am excited to see the impact they will have on the broader world.”

This year’s recipients are honored for their lifelong commitment to the performing arts and their remarkable contributions to the field. Recent past recipients include: Jessye Norman (2019); Herbie Hancock (2018); André Previn (2017); Leonard Slatkin, (2016); Ahmad Jamal (2015); Carla Bley (2014); Philip Gossett (2013); George Shirley (2012); Steve Reich (2011); and Quincy Jones (2010). Full list of past Honorary Doctor of Music Degree recipients here.

190 graduating students from the classes of 2020 and 2021 will be awarded degrees and diplomas including the Bachelor of Music, Graduate Diploma, Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Artist Diploma.

A pre-Commencement streamed concert will showcase NEC students from the graduating classes on May 22, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Further details will be announced on the NEC website in advance of the performance.

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