Finishing the requirements for graduation at North Bennet Street School takes hard work, commitment, and dedication at the best of times. The students in our 2020 graduating class completed their intensive programs during an extremely tumultuous year, staying the course through a building closure, remote learning, and extended in-person instruction—with a host of new safety protocols in place. Not to be outdone, all of this occurred while navigating their own personal lives, preparing themselves for a future in their professional fields, and encouraging the work of their classmates and colleagues.
Simply stated, we couldn’t be more proud of all that these 94 graduates accomplished. Along with our continuing and new students, they represent the best qualities of our community and reflect the most cherished values of our institution.
On October 29th and 30th, we celebrated our newest alumni over the course of six physically-distanced ceremonies at Old North Church. Though the commencements were unlike any of those in our history, we were happy to provide ceremonies that nevertheless honored the hard work and dedication of these talented individuals.
Please join us in wishing them all the best as they advance into their careers; we look forward great things!
Watch videos from the live stream of all six ceremonies below, and read a full transcript of President Sarah Turner’s and Provost Claire Fruitman’s remarks to our graduating students.
Remarks by Sarah Turner, NBSS President
Hello and welcome to graduation in October: a seasonal marker in a different season. I’m so glad we can be together today. Luckily, I know most of you by now, either from our days in person before March, or from our urgent and sudden zoom calls this spring. It’s so good to see you today, together, in person—if spaced out! And for our graduates who finished “in the field,” who could not travel to be with us in person; we miss you, but you’re out there in the world paving the way for the rest of your class. Thank you for joining us remotely.
For friends and family watching today’s ceremony on video, I’m Sarah Turner, the President at North Bennet Street School. Of course, I’m particularly pleased to see our graduates, but I’m glad to know friends and family are here in spirit, because I’m sure you have been such an important part of our graduate’s success. So much credit goes to the folks who supported our graduates through their training—on the easy days and the very difficult days.
A big thank you to NBSS staff, and the goodwill of the people at the Old North Church, for making today’s celebration possible. In order to respect social distancing rules, we’ll conduct SIX graduations, which makes for two days of celebrations! Welcome to you, our newest graduates here and elsewhere; and welcome to our faculty, honored members of the community today, indeed.
In a moment, I’ll share some thoughts with you of what your studies and your work has meant to all of us this year and what I hope it will mean to you going forward. And at a time like this, it’s easy to focus on the urgent, the right-now, and of course, as new professionals in your fields, the next and what is to come. But as we know, we are part of something bigger than ourselves—and our way has been paved by people who did good work before us.
So before you graduate, I’m pleased to put you in the very good company of another NBSS graduate, and our Distinguished Alumni Award recipient this year, David Betts PT ’72, PA ’20.
Distinguished Alumni Award
Each year, North Bennet Street School gives the Distinguished Alumni Award to recognize an outstanding graduate from one of our nine full-time programs based on their professional accomplishments, their contributions to their industry, and their promotion of excellence in craft and trade. We are so proud to honor David Betts, class of 1972 in Piano Technology, as the recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Some of you have gotten to know David, and certainly our Piano alumni and friends certainly know him. Still, I’ll tell you a little more. For more than 45 years, since his graduation from the program, David has worked as a self-employed technician and rebuilder, making him one of the foremost experts in his field. If this weren’t enough—and dedication to one’s craft and clients for over 45 years IS enough—David is also an accomplished and beloved educator. He’s been a regular master teacher for the meetings of the Piano Technicians Guild, and was awarded the PTG’s Member of Note Award in 2002 for these outstanding contributions.
And David started a new chapter for NBSS: after only a couple of years teaching at the School, he recognized the opportunity for an Advanced Piano Technology Program, developed it and moved into the role of Department Head for both Piano programs. It is an example of the things I’ll talk about today: commitment, seeing and developing opportunity, and of course, enduring dedication to others and the School. His work led the program to national and international renown, and he provided lifelong mentorship to both students and graduates of the programs.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is given through recommendation by peers—a true testament to the respect and admiration that he has earned through his work. With this honor also came an Honorary Diploma in Advanced Piano Technology to David this past spring, a reflection of how teaching and learning can happen simultaneously. I know that David is watching today from a healthy and safe distance at home, so congratulations to you, David, and thank you for all of your contributions.
And now, to you, our Graduates and our Faculty—
When I thought about what to say to you today, how I might inspire you for your launch into your next chapter, your next job, your next phase of life, I thought I might look to history and place: the steadfastness of our small school—140 years old next year—or to the endurance of this place: the Old North Church, a place that has stood for almost 300 years (!) and seen remarkable moments of American and global history. In both these cases, time and history would have been the inspiration: how much both places have weathered and stood for.
Or, in addressing you today, I might have conjured an inspiring person, someone who succeeded against odds, had the strength of character to accomplish something significant, even in difficulty or adversity. Someone with compassion and caring, who worked on behalf of others.
I thought about words, and literature, acts of courage, and rarity. Something to inspire you and propel you forward; to take as meaningful. And at another graduation, in another season or another year, I might have taken this approach, looking outside of us, looking elsewhere for that spark.
You can see where this is leading. You hear me use words like steadfastness and endurance. Strength of character. Compassion and caring. This is what you have been. You have been the inspiration, and you have been what propelled the rest of us forward.
I’m remembering the middle of March: we were all in shock, and we were all suddenly at home. Not only were none of us prepared for those weeks and months—none of us knew how to Zoom, how to navigate all of the technology that we’ve learned since then. Suddenly, you and your teachers—people who are dedicated to the analog, the by-hand, the in-person, people who in many cases have chosen these fields for those very reasons—had these preferred methods taken away and had to adapt. You did. Your faculty did.
You have been the inspiration, and you have been what propelled the rest of us forward.
I think we were all so grateful in those months—even if we didn’t recognize it—to have your progress as our focus. It helped us put one foot in front of the other, facing each challenge as it came. We thought about how you would finish your work: how would we get tools to you, how would we keep you engaged. Your faculty thought about how you could keep making progress, and find a pathway forward to today: to program completion, accomplishment, and graduation.
You did this. You showed up on Zoom, you watched videos, and read materials, and stood by each other. You showed caring and compassion. You showed endurance and steadfastness. And you did it while the world changed, radically, around you—changing your family life, your working life, and course, your training and your timeline. I have to admit, I marveled at the way you simply kept showing up. How we all did: taking on something so much bigger than ourselves, step by step.
And this took time—it’s the end of October after all, not the season we’re used to for graduations. But you found ways to stay engaged, to adjust your lives and goals, and you were ingenious: finding work as a way to continue your learning, or projects that kept your skills up. I’ll simply say it: we are so proud of you. We are so inspired by your commitment and your focus.
And so, as you move ahead and take on the challenges that will surely come—you can look to this time as one of reassurance. You did something remarkable. That is in you. As I’ve said on other occasions, good work, important work is not magic, it is not special abilities. That effort is day-by-day and steady, and you’ve done this. So, as you set up your next lives, your next projects and careers, I hope you will turn to what you learned and experienced here. All that you built, all that you made, all that you fixed, all that you repaired. It is not magic, but it is unique and it is so, so special.
As you move ahead and take on the challenges that will surely come—you can look to this time as one of reassurance. You did something remarkable. As you set up your next lives, your next projects and careers, I hope you will turn to what you learned and experienced here.
And through your work, you honor the work of the school and the community you have become a part of. A School that endures for 139 years is not a static thing—it is a place created by all of us—past, present and future. And as we saw this year, NBSS is a bigger effort than what happens in two buildings. It is a network, extending out and back through each of us. We will want to know about the work that you do, and how learning, knowledge—how North Bennet Street School—extends through you.
Keep in touch: with us, with each other, with the currents of culture that will shape your work. Let us know what you’re making, what you’re building, and help us to pay attention to new uses of skill in the world.
We are so honored to have you join 139 years of North Bennet Street School. On behalf of all of us at the School: Marc Margulies, our Board Chair, as well as our full Board of Directors, Advisors, the many many decades of alumni who balanced changes with training before you: Well done. Your work has meant so much to all of us. Congratulations, graduates.
Closing Remarks by Claire Fruitman CF ’96, Provost
From longstanding remarks given by former NBSS Associate Director, Walter McDonald.
We may be almost finished here, but it’s far from over.
There’s a lot more to do. There will be mistakes from which you will learn. There will be customers you hope never to see again. New methods, equipment, and materials will change the way you work. You will get better and faster.
If you don’t get it right, you have a chance to do it better the next time.
There will be wonderful customers for whom you will do work over your entire career, and they will recommend you to their friends, and they will become your friends because of your work.
There will be a time when you finish a job, look at it and realize that a short time ago you could not have done it, and you would not have even known where to start. And you will realize how far you’ve come.
So in closing: May your tools stay sharp. May your work be scheduled a year in advance. May your customers always be satisfied, pay in a timely manner, and without argument.
You have skills and knowledge that few people share. You can use these skills to make life better for others. You can be justifiably proud of jobs well-done.
Now we’re finished here. It’s time for you to go out there and do great work.