Serving Others With Our Talents

Thursday, Jun 11, 2020
By Bronwyn Schuman
Juilliard Journal
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Bronwyn Schuman seated at the piano

Commencement 2020

This entry in a series of profiles of Juilliard Commencement experiences is by collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman, who received her master’s degree and who played part of Aaron Copland’s Our Town Suite to accompany graduating actor Katherine Renee Turner’s reading of Martha Graham’s Letter to Agnes de Mille as part of the main ceremony. 

President Damian Woetzel words at Juilliard’s 115th Commencement resonate in my mind as I reach for one of my mom’s homemade double-chocolate muffins: “Creating such art is essential because when all the excess of the world falls away, our search for the human connection remains.” I am sitting at home watching the ceremony live from Calgary, Canada, joined by friends and family—a very cozy commencement. It is 9am, and I am aware that, for some graduates in different parts of the world, it is the middle of the night! 

It soon becomes clear that connection is the overall theme to this graduation. The photos and videos displayed before the ceremony are visual reminders of friends and classmates making meaningful connections with each other and with their audiences through their art. As I watch, I am reminded of Juilliard Spirit Day, when students stuffed their own toy penguins; the dancers’ Rite of Spring; creating the lobby “Welcome!” sign as an orientation leader; the New York Festival of Song; Juilliard Opera’s The Turn of the Screw; and so much more. As I look back on the two years that I have been at Juilliard, I know that President Woetzel’s words are profoundly true. I know this because I can think of all of my friends at school who have helped me in my search for human connection with their music making, their kind words, and their generosity.

The reminiscing is poignant, but as we look to the future, we are exhorted by alumnus Yo-Yo Ma to unite our head and heart, to build trust by telling the truth and doing service, and to find ways to connect with the world wherever we may find ourselves. I find it inspiring that he does not talk about success and personal fulfillment but of serving others with our talents.

Shereen Pimentel’s and Chris Reynolds’ performance of “Somewhere” from West Side Story expresses that there is “a time to learn” and “a time to care.” At Juilliard, we seek to develop our abilities to both learn and care, whether on or off campus. As President Woetzel says, we “have honed [our] skills to be connectors, and that is the ultimate goal of all of [our] work.” 

During the ceremony, my own performance of Aaron Copland’s “The Story of Our Town” from his Our Town Suite reminds me that this piece was written at a time of impending war in America, 1940. At a time when people needed comfort, the play Our Town and its music connected with its audience, sharing ideals of fundamental values, family, and community. 

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