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Trio of changemakers to share their advice at fall commencement

The acclaimed conductor, pioneering attorney and academic dreamer will address the graduates during next week’s fall start rehearsals at the Watsco Center.

Three extraordinary individuals who have made indelible marks in the world of music, the legal professions and the future of education will each give their advice at the University of Miami’s fall commencement festivities on Friday, December 17, when more than 1,110 students will cross. Watsco Center Stage.

Gerard Schwartz, the world-renowned composer and conductor who joined the university’s faculty in 2019, will speak at the 8:30 a.m. gala event for undergraduate and graduate students at the School of Architecture, Patti and Allan Herbert School of Business, School of Communication, School of Education and Human Development, and Philip School and Patricia Frost for Music.

Marilyn Holyfield, a leading attorney who has spent her life paving the way to equality, tolerance and opportunity for all, will speak at the 1 p.m. gala for Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral candidates from the College of Engineering, College of Engineering. Law, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, and School of Nursing and Health Studies.

John Sexton, President Emeritus of New York University, whose bold leadership has expanded the institution’s stature and reach around the world, will speak at the 5:30 p.m. ceremony for undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Continuing and International Education, and the Graduate School.

To maintain social distancing protocols set in place for the ongoing pandemic, students will be restricted to six guests each, but, as always, festivities will be broadcast live, with links available.

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A talented composer, conductor, arranger, and educator, Schwartz is known for his moving performances, innovative programming, extensive recording catalog, and dedication to growing audiences everywhere. He serves as music director for the All-Star Orchestra, Oriental Music Festival, Palm Beach Symphony, New York’s Mozart Orchestra, and Frost Symphony Orchestra at the Frost School of Music, which he joined in the fall of 2019 as a Distinguished Music Professor and conducting orchestral studies.

He is also conductor emeritus of the Mostly Mozart Festival and laureate of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra – having spent 26 years and established himself as one of the world’s greatest conductors and the premier champion of contemporary American symphonic music.

The son of two doctors, he grew up in Weehawken, New Jersey, in a Jewish home filled with music. His maternal grandparents perished in the Holocaust, but his parents fled their native Austria to Switzerland, where they completed their medical studies before immigrating to the United States. At the age of five, their son started playing the piano – until he discovered the trumpet two years later.

A graduate of the New York School of Dramatic Art and Juilliard School, he joined the acclaimed New York Philharmonic as co-lead director in 1972, but left it to pursue directing and music direction. Prior to assuming the presidency of the Seattle Symphony in 1985, Schwartz founded the New York Symphony Chamber and directed the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. He also served as Music Director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestras. as artistic advisor to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra; and as a guest conductor with the San Francisco, Washington National and Seattle Opera companies.

Over his nearly five decades on stage, Schwarz has received hundreds of honors, including Emmy Awards, Grammy nominations, and ASCAP Awards. Next week, he will receive another honor – the University of Miami President’s Medal for his outstanding achievements in the field of music.

They fought for equality

Holifield is a highly admired litigator who represents corporate clients for the Miami-based international law firm, Holland & Knight LLP. But as one of three black abolitionists at Lyon High School in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1963, she was treated with contempt.

Instead of using her name, her colleagues called her an N, and one morning, they pelted her with raw eggs as she got off the bus. The daughter of a nurse and a scientist, dazed but brave, Holyfield went home, changed clothes, and went back to school, determined to earn her degree and fight for equality, tolerance, and diversity.

One of a few black students at both Swarthmore College and Harvard Law School, she co-founded the Swarthmore African-American Students Association and edited the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Act Review. At the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City, she worked on a landmark prison reform case that improved the treatment of black prisoners and a discrimination lawsuit against the Pullman Standard, which secured better conditions for black railroad workers.

She also worked as a general counsel for the New York State Department of Youth and a clerk for a federal appeals judge before Holland & Knight appointed her as her first black partner. Five years later, the firm elevated Holifield to Partner status—the first black woman to hold that title at a major Florida law firm.

Thirty-five years later, Holyfield is still litigating, but also devotes a great deal of energy to mentoring young lawyers, supporting art from the African diaspora, and advising three major educational institutions. Co-founder of the Miami Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art, she is a member of the University of Miami Board of Trustees, Harvard University’s Board of Supervisors, and Swarthmore Board of Directors. She has received numerous honors for her legal, professional practice and civic engagement.

From the champion of the debate to the president of the university

As a student at Fordham University, Sexton does not appear to be committed to one of the most prestigious positions in academia. He spent more time coaching a high school debate team than he did take bachelor’s and master’s classes.

But after studying for a decade at a small Catholic college, he received a doctorate in religion from Fordham and was accepted into Harvard Law School, where his course of study was determined. After graduating summa cum laude and a clerk for two federal judges and the Chief Justice of the United States, he began teaching at New York University (NYU) Law School. Within seven years, the high school national debate champion was dean of the law school, a position he held for 14 years before ascending to the presidency of New York University in 2002.

Over his 14 years in leadership, NYU’s standing has grown exponentially – and globally. The College of Arts and Sciences swelled. The university’s rankings, applications, and entrance examination scores rose. So did her gifts and extension. Sexton led New York University through what was then the most successful fundraising drive in higher education in the United States, and made the institution an influence on positive globalization. Today, its Global Network University links New York University with 16 international academic centers on six continents.

In the course of his presidential duties, he taught a few courses, including “Baseball as a Path to God,” a popular class on two seemingly unrelated subjects. Next year, his bestselling book of the same title is set to become the basis for the first full-length Major League Baseball documentary.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Sexton serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute of International Education and chairs the President’s Council for University of the People, an accredited online university that serves more refugees and homeless people than the rest of US higher education combined. He has received many honors, and next week he will receive another award – an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the university.


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