Vocalist Meredith Monk to receive honorary degree.

By Ann Kenda

An internationally acclaimed vocal artist with a 50-year career and a dizzying array of awards and honors will receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Mount Holyoke College during its 178th commencement on Sunday, May 17.

Meredith Monk, who was called "one of contemporary music's great innovators" by the Classical Review and a "magician of the voice" by the New York Times, said she was especially excited by the invitation to help celebrate the class of 2015 due to her fond memories of her first visit to campus in spring 2011.

"I was so struck by the intelligence and liveliness of the students," said Monk, who was the 2011 Leading Women in the Arts guest artist-in-residence. She taught a master class and offered a public lecture and demonstration of her performance techniques during an "Archeology of an Artist" presentation.

Monk said she's still mulling over the themes she'd like to impart to students when she returns to campus, but those themes will involve change, growth, and risk taking. She said even as a veteran performer, she still has to take risks and tolerate the unknown.

"When I start a new piece, it's literally from zero," said Monk, who is known for outside-of-the-norm works in opera, musical theater, films, and installations and whose previous awards include a MacArthur "genius" grant, two Guggenheim fellowships, and three "Obies," which are given to the best off-Broadway productions.

Monk said new graduates who are planning performance or arts careers should not be dissuaded on the grounds that the field is too competitive.

"If you have a vision of something you want to do, and have something to give, you should stay on that path," she said.

Monk plans to let students know that their education is far from over once they leave Mount Holyoke.

"It's about always asking questions and just loving learning for itself. I think that's what education is about," she said.

Monk joins an illustrious list of previous Mount Holyoke honorary degree recipients, including poet Maya Angelou, actress Glenn Close, activist Rosa Parks, reformer Frances Perkins, and President William McKinley. Mount Holyoke's tradition of awarding honorary degrees to extraordinary individuals dates back to 1894.

Others receiving honorary degrees this year are national education advocate Carol Geary Schneider ’67; Newman’s Own Foundation CEO Robert Forrester; and CARE.com founder and CEO Sheila Lirio Marcelo ‘93.