2024 Commencement in Pictures

6 min read

The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music held its 2024 commencement ceremony in the Ackerman Ballroom on June 14 at 10:00 a.m. The solemn occasion was leavened by the School of Music’s signature live music and celebratory mood. But let the pictures tell the story.

Lining up for the processional

The faculty and students entered to a processional performed by the UCLA Commencement Brass Ensemble and the West African Drum Ensemble. The ballroom was filled to capacity as the candidates for graduation made their way to their seats at the front of the stage.

The ceremony began with a welcome from Eileen Strempel, inaugural dean of The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. She acknowledged that many of those graduating today had never had a high school graduation, as such ceremonies were often canceled during the pandemic. She exulted the graduating scholars, composers, and musicians who had have already taken a lead role in confronting the formidable challenges of our time. But, she reminded everyone, meeting the day’s crises carries a burden. Quoting Tolstoy, she said “to be happy, you must first believe in the possibility of happiness.” Artists and scholars take lead roles in expanding the popular imagination, said Strempel, and in making it possible to believe in happiness.

“I take comfort in understanding that happiness first begins as a glimmer of hope, and then an idea, and then it becomes a responsibility. We must first believe happiness is possible, and then we must work to make it real.”

-Eileen Strempel

Next, Strempel introduced the keynote speaker Jake Heggie. She noted that Heggie is known the world over as one of the most prolific and respected composers of opera and art songs in the twenty-first century. In 2023, his music opened the seasons of the New York Met, New York Philharmonic, and the Houston Grand Opera. Any composer, remarked Strempel, would consider it a triumph to open just one of these storied arts organization’s seasons. She also noted that Heggie was attending not only as a keynote speaker, but as a graduate as well. Heggie completed his bachelor’s in piano performance from UCLA forty years ago, but was unable to attend the graduation. “This is his graduation, too,” said Stempel.

Keynote speaker Jake Heggie then walked to the podium. He spoke openly of his difficult path, of how hard it was to work directly after graduation and of the focal dystonia that made playing the piano impossible, and how he briefly quit and went to work as a copywriter. Although it was difficult to see at the time, said Heggie, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him, taking him out of his comfort zone and ultimately landing him a gig in the PR department of the San Francisco Opera, where he began writing music again and was ultimately commissioned to write his first opera, Dead Man Walking. It was not a normal career path, Heggie acknowledged, but the through line was always music. Music, Heggie said, which had saved him again and again during his life.

“Music saved me again and again as a kid. It gave me connection and community when I was getting through the aftermath of my father’s suicide when I was 10 years old in Bexley, Ohio. I felt that powerful flame and fire in my core that pushed me to work hard. I found a wonderful community through music and theater. It healed me, gave me hope and strength.”

-Jake Heggie

Two more speakers addressed the crowd. Undergraduate student speaker Ashley Dao spoke about about music’s reparative potential, and the hard work that scholars and artists do to create communities devoted to beauty and to healing. Graduate speaker Robby Good also spoke of musical community, and of how his past six years at UCLA (from bachelor’s education to master’s training) had taught him to find opportunities and seek collaborations.

The ceremony honored every graduate of The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Dean’s medals were awarded, latin honors read. The recessional was led by the Mariachi de Uclatlán before graduates, their guests, faculty and all retired to the Ackerman patio for a reception.

Congratulations to all of our 2024 graduates. To see all of the commencement photographs, and to view the program book, please visit our commencement webpage. We look forward to hearing from all our graduates and sharing their alumni stories to inspire the next generation of School of Music graduates.