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BOSTON, Massachusetts – Over the course of my life I have had the pleasure of attending more than my fair share of graduation ceremonies, and have enjoyed a host of commencement addresses. After my sons graduation from UMass a few years ago, when a proud alumnus delivered the keynote speech via downlink while orbiting in the International Space Station, I thought for sure that I had seen and heard it all. This weekend, however, I was treated to what I will probably always view as one of the most fun, passionate, and simply amazing experiences in the history of commencements.Rock and Roll legend Graham Nash was honored with an honorary doctorate from Lesley University, and along with famed author David McCullough, delivered a fantastic and obviously very heart-felt keynote speech to hundreds of Boston’s finest students, passing along his own unique wisdom as they prepare to journey from the confines of academia, out into the real word.
The energy at the Bank of America was clearly palpable in the incredible vibe of the atmosphere there. A huge part of this, no doubt, was that while the students were just babies, the faculty – members of my generation – were all huge Crosby, Stills and Nash fans. This was immediately obvious gazing out not at the students – but into the faculty seating area, and seeing full professors, draped in their graduation regalia, grinning from ear-to-ear and recording the event on their iPhones!! Surely this was as exciting for the crowds as I’m sure it was for the honoree, as evidenced in no small part by the fantastic introduction from Professor Christopher James, who said – “This a rare treat to introduce the person who created the sound track of my life. Graham is legendary singer, songwriter, digital imaging pioneer. Your iconic music was a call to action during the turbulent generation of the 60’s and 70’s, and your music is still relevant a half-century later. As a founding member of CSN you were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame, and then inducted again in 2010 as a founding member of the Hollies. Your performance at Woodstock has been hailed as one of the most memorable in history.
Always driven to create, you are a passionate photographer with a body of work spanning over 50 years. Now one of the world premier fine art printing houses, your Nash Editions company has been recognized by the Smithsonian, for it’s role in the invention of digital fine art printing. Your own brilliant photography is a tribute to your father and demonstrates a unique has earned you numerous awards. You have been called a man who is fundamentally tuned into the world.
In 2010 your were named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England.
Graham Nash in recognition for your enduring gift of music, your creativity in photography, your innovation in print making, and your continued efforts to improve our planet, Lesley University is proud to convey upon you the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, given on May 18th, in Boston Massachusetts, Rock On!!”
Certainly no stranger to applause – especially at this venue, Graham still seemed visibly moved by this new experience, and with no notes whatsoever, delivered an impressive and truly moving set of remarks to the students. He kept is short and sweet, as always, and yet conveyed such an important lesson that students I witnessed afterward were talking about it with each other, and going on and on about how the lessons he spoke of would be something they would take to heart, and carry with them forever.
Here are just a few excepts from the address itself.
“I’m of course very pleased to be here, and thank everyone at Lesley University. Congratulations, you’ve earned it!
One-hundred years of making art important in peoples lives…fantastic! I came from a very poor family in the north of England, in Manchester. My parents were nothing but encouraging to me. While my friends parents were telling then to get on with real a job in the mill, or down in the mines, my parents encouraged me to be a musician. They knew where my heart was, and I will be forever grateful to them. In fact, no matter what you think of your parents, you should honor them. In the words of some minor composer, “they taught me well.”
Your teachers are here to encourage you. They’re here to open your hearts and your minds and to the possibilities of the future and to give you a voice. Every single person here has that voice, and the responsibility to use that voice. I’ve been using my voice for a long, long time. I’m over 70 now, and it has all gone so fast. Last week, it was 50 years to the day since my first band the Hollies released their first single. I’ve been with David and Stephen for almost 45 years, and realized who I want to be in my life, and who I don’t want to be. I look around here and realize that my partner Crosby has socks older than you!
Time…… Time is our only currency, and you have to use it well. Art is not just the canvas you’re painting, or the block of wood you’re sculpting, or the photograph you’re taking, it’s your life. You have to make every single thing you do “art.” Whether it’s making a cup of tea, encouraging a child…it’s all art and you have to do it the best you can. In my own way, I’m trying to be the best partner I can, the best father i can, the best musician I can. I’ll never make it, but at least I’m trying.
Even Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, with all their fortunes can’t buy one moment of time. I don’t give advice….but if I was asked to give advice, it would be very simple for me. You have to find your passion. You have to find something that turns you on and fills your heart with joy Something that makes you wake up every day with a smile.
Congratulations again. I’m going to sing you a song.
He then treated the students – and again even more so the assembled faculty – to a rousing version of Teach Your Children, that brought the house down and set a pretty high bar indeed for graduations to follow.
I know I extend my personal congratulations to Graham and his family on this amazing honor, and send my thanks to the staff of Lesley University for putting on a flawless event, and allowing me to cover it. Job well done everybody.