The Spring Commencement ceremony includes keynote remarks by guest speakers.

2023 Spring Commencement Speaker

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis is a world-renowned trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and a leading advocate of American culture. He presently serves as Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Director of Jazz Studies at The Juilliard School, and President of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1961, he is the son of jazz pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Wynton started practicing trumpet at age 6 and grew up playing in an unusually diverse group of musical ensembles— including everything from New Orleans traditional marching bands, to funk bands, concert bands, symphonic orchestras and small jazz ensembles. Just one year after moving to New York City to attend The Juilliard School at age 17, Marsalis joined the legendary Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

In 1981, Wynton formed a quintet and began touring all over the country, and the world. To date, he has performed 4,862 concerts in 856 distinct cities and 65 countries across the globe. Over the past four decades, Marsalis has rekindled and animated widespread international interest in jazz through performances, educational activities, books, curricula, and relentless advocacy on public platforms. Today, Marsalis continues the renaissance that he sparked in the early 1980s, attracting new generations of young talent to jazz and illuminating the mythic meanings of jazz fundamentals.

Marsalis has been called the “Pied Piper” of jazz and the “Doctor of Swing.” Since his recording debut in 1982, he has released over 110 jazz and classical recordings and won many awards, from a home cooked meal to honors that require a tuxedo. He regularly performs in the most prestigious concert halls and is known to play till all hours of the morning in the most inconspicuous local clubs. From the very beginning of his career, education has been vital to his mission. He has taught and mentored many, many musicians who have gone on to play, teach and advocate in their own brilliant ways.

Marsalis performs and composes across the entire spectrum of jazz and has written jazz-influenced chamber music and symphonic works for revered classical ensembles across the US and abroad. He is inspired to experiment in an ever- widening palette of forms and concepts that constitute some of the most advanced thinking in modern jazz and in American music on the broad scale. His body of original work includes (but is not limited to) 600 songs and movements, 11 dance scores, 13 suites, four symphonies, two chamber pieces, two string quartets, a jazz oratorio, a fanfare, and concertos for violin and tuba.

Wynton has received such accolades as The Louis Armstrong Memorial Medal, The French Grand Prix du Disque, and The Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts. He was appointed Messenger of Peace by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2001) and has been awarded The Congressional “Horizon Award” (2002), The National Medal of Arts (2005), and The National Humanities Medal (2016). Britain’s Royal Academy of Music has granted Marsalis Honorary Membership; in the fall of 2009, he received France’s highest distinction, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He has received honorary doctorates from 41 of America’s top academic institutions including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Tulane University in his hometown of New Orleans.

Wynton is the music’s chief advocate, philosopher and performer who is called upon at ceremonial occasions to place events in their proper historical context. To that end, his is a principal speaker in several vital documentaries on jazz and American culture and has written many relevant essays on jazz-related topics. Between 2011 and 2014, he delivered six groundbreaking and definitive lectures entitled Hidden in Plain View: Meanings in American Music at Harvard University. Marsalis is the author of seven books, including two children’s books.

Wynton Marsalis’ core beliefs are based on jazz fundamentals: freedom and individual creativity (improvisation), collective action and good manners (swing), as well as acceptance, gratitude and resilience (the blues). Wynton believes that music has the power to elevate our quality of life and lead us to both higher and lower levels of consciousness. He believes that music can advance the quality of human engagement for individuals, social networks and cultural institutions throughout the world.

2023 Spring Commencement Student Speakers

In addition, brief remarks will be made by several student speakers, chosen by the Student Speaker Selection Committee. This year’s selection includes remarks from the following students:

  • Byron Brooks
  • Nicholos Daniel
  • Ayda Qureshi