Embracing the Unexpected

Jennifer Higdon receives honorary doctorate, gives commencement address

Jennifer-Higdon

By Jennifer Sobolewski

Jennifer Higdon’s life has been full of surprises. The BGSU alumna and composer admitted during her commencement address on Dec. 19 that much of her success, both personally and professionally, would likely have never happened had she stuck with her original plan at the University to become a professional flutist.

Instead of playing in an orchestra, Higdon ‘86 is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. She has become a major figure in contemporary classical music, with commissions in the orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and wind ensemble genres. An opera, written by Higdon and based on the book “Cold Mountain,” will premier next year in Santa Fe.

In addition to giving the commencement address, Higdon was also awarded an honorary doctorate from BGSU during the ceremony.

She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, a bachelor’s degree in flute performance from BGSU, and an Artist Diploma in music composition from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she now holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies.

Her Percussion Concerto won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in January 2010. Higdon also received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto.

In her address, Higdon challenged students to be open to the unexpected possibilities that could come their way and to strive to make new rules for living their life.

“The reality is we are not always able to imagine how events will unfold,” Higdon said. “The ability to think beyond the norm, and beyond expectations, can make a lifetime of the ‘amazing.’”  

“Thinking outside the box has brought us the light bulb, personal computers, iPhones, the cure for diseases, Post-it notes, and the Internet. Many of the things we enjoy casually in our lives occurred because someone accidentally stumbled down a different path than what they had originally intended.”

Higdon also encouraged the new graduates to not be afraid to fail. “Failure only occurs when you don’t try. Success comes when you move past an event, and gain the most that you can from it.”

She also encouraged the new alumni to push themselves, to make every day unique, and to try to not get bogged down in daily routines.

“Can you imagine if you got to the end of your life and you could look back and say ‘Everyday, I made someone’s day a little better’? Small gestures—big results. Life is not a predetermined route. It’s never what you expect, but that’s what makes it possible for you to scale mountains of experience.”