Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Wooten can break it down for environmentalists


When Victor Wooten was asked to deliver the commencement address at the Rubenstein School at the University of Vermont last spring, he brought his bass and went to town for the many non-musicians in the crowd. Hang on for “Amazing Grace” at the end!

The Rubenstein School offers students hands-on environmental programs that integrate natural sciences and social perspectives, according to the university’s website. “Our small, close-knit community challenges students to discover knowledge, skills, and values to become innovative, environmentally-responsible leaders.”

“To me, music and nature are the same thing,” the bass player, composer, author, and five-time Grammy winner told last year’s graduates. “You get to change people’s lives in a good way.”

“Our mission is to understand, nurture, and enrich the interdependence of people with healthy ecological systems,” wrote Nancy Mathews, dean of the school. “We embrace core values of innovation, critical thinking, integrative learning, community engagement, and cultural awareness in all that we do. Most importantly, we strive to provide academic excellence, while advancing discovery and learning in service to society, the nation, and the world.”

In his speech—or rather, his talk—Mr Wooten described one session he had with a banjo player. His fellow musician would jam by just playing his own part and letting other musicians listen.

He wouldn’t presume to be able to write a bass line, for instance, certainly not one as good as what Mr Wooten could create. So instead, his way of leading was just to let others bring their own abilities to the chart—not to tell anyone else how to play their part, but to let them work it out given their own musical training and instincts.

As graduates make their way into the world, he told them to “lead in a way that brings out the best in people. And be a leader among equals.” Reminding them that even though the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, he said the second-best time was right now. Then he thanked them for all they will do as they embark on their next journey.

  • Did you deliver a speech at your graduation?

Send us the text of your speech and the name and city of your high school by emailing it to We’ll be in touch.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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