Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti charmed the audience from the moment he stepped up to the podium Friday to deliver his address at Northwestern's 156th commencement ceremony at Ryan Field.
On a muggy, overcast day, Muti delivered a sometimes passionate and often humorous commencement address — colored with playful self-deprecation. But the thrust of his remarks was serious and heartfelt, heralding music as a unifying language and how “this mysterious and illusive art can make people better."
Reflecting the joy and purpose of the day, the graduates led the opening processional, lined up in purple robes, smiling widely, texting, tweeting, and waving to families and friends, who responded in kind.
About 13,000 people packed the stadium for the 95-minute ceremony honoring approximately 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Expected rain never materialized, and the sun peeked out throughout the morning ceremony.
Muti, one of the world’s preeminent conductors of our day, and four other distinguished individuals received honorary degrees from Northwestern.
The four are Sara Bloomfield, who led the United States Holocaust Museum for more than a decade; Richard Easterlin, a professor at the University of Southern California who is a pioneer in economic history, economic demography, and happiness economics; Northwestern alumna Cloris Leachman, a celebrated television, film, and stage performer who has won more Emmys (nine) than any other actor; and Stevie Wonder, an American singer, songwriter, musician, and producer who is one of the most celebrated and influential figures in popular music.
Every year, in one of the highlights of Commencement, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro gives a series of shout-outs to varying groups of the graduates’ loved ones, until just about every family member and friend is standing to wild applause.
“Not a single graduate would be here today without the support and encouragement of you in the audience,” President Schapiro said.