James Gandre '81 delivers his address at the Baccalaureate service in Memorial Chapel.
James Gandre '81 delivers his address at the Baccalaureate service in Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

In the 43 years since he walked across Lawrence University’s Commencement stage, James Gandre ’81 has lived and breathed the transformative power of education.

“When I was a student here, I was unaware of the numerous turns my life would ultimately take, and I had no idea my life would be what it is today, more full and more fulfilling than I ever imagined,” said Gandre, whose passion for education has led him to the presidency of the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.

He addressed Lawrence’s Class of 2024 at the annual Baccalaureate service in Memorial Chapel, one of the signature events of Commencement weekend. At Commencement, he will receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree.

“He has forged a career as both a renowned leader in music education and a brilliant tenor vocalist,” Lawrence President Laurie A. Carter said in introducing Gandre at the Saturday service. “It is fitting that he is addressing you here in Memorial Chapel, from the stage that was such an important part of his Lawrence experience, in a performance venue as revered today as it was when President Gandre was an undergraduate.”

Gandre told the graduates that a decision to attend Lawrence is life changing. He has felt that every step of his journey. He came to Lawrence from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, with a dream to study music. After majoring in performance (voice) at Lawrence, he would go on to earn a master’s degree (performance) from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and an Ed.D. in higher education administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, supporting a career that has taken him to the highest levels of music education. 

“Students, your time at Lawrence has forever changed you,” Gandre said. “Because you chose to come here, your education and your experiences have been different, your friends are different, and your perspective of the world is different. Your Lawrence education and experiences have also given you a foundation to allow for a myriad possibilities that life may present.”

He implored students to “take thoughtful yet daring risks,” pursuing life’s work—professional and personal—with passion.

“Find the things that fuel you and give you purpose and fulfillment,” Gandre said. “If you can do this, you will indeed be satisfied, content, and joyous in a multitude of ways throughout your life.”

Gandre said he found his passion in higher education. He has been president of Manhattan School of Music since 2013. He held various positions at the school from 1985 to 2000 before taking on leadership roles at Roosevelt University in Chicago and the Chicago College of Performing Arts. Since returning to Manhattan School of Music as its president 11 years ago, Gandre has overseen $30 million in campus improvements, including a renovation of the school’s main performance hall, and launched an undergraduate degree in musical theatre. He also has overseen the creation of an online learning environment known as the Global Conservatoire, in partnership with London’s Royal College of Music and other institutions. He was recently appointed to the Advisory Council of The Misty Copeland Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to bring greater diversity, equity, and inclusion to dance, especially ballet. 

A tenor vocalist, Gandre has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Classical Players as a soloist. He has completed more than 175 choral performances with a variety of organizations, including the New York Philharmonic, and has been featured on more than 20 commercial recordings. 

"You will carry this great institution, your experiences here – the wonderful ones, the tough ones, and everything in between – you will carry these experiences with you throughout your life," Gandre told the graduates. "Like other Lawrence alumni, your life journeys will be extraordinarily interesting and tremendously varied. Don't limit your options to what is right in front of you or to what someone else has always wanted for you. ... Choose what makes you happy, what stimulates you, and what motivates and nurtures your spirit; what enlivens passion in your soul."

Lawrentian talents celebrated

The Baccalaureate service, a multi-faith celebration, featured members of the Class of 2024—and a handful of other Lawrentians—throughout.

Music performances included the jazz trio of Reese Pike ’25 on piano, Jackson B. Peters ’24 on bass, and Tyler H. Donnelly ’27 on drums performing Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom. A chamber ensemble featured Darren Lam ’24 on flute, Wren Whalen ’25 on clarinet, Evan Ney ’24 on saxophone, Connor M. Parr ’24 on horn, and Iris M. Hakes ’24 on bassoon performing Valerie Coleman’s Umoja. Daniel R. Boyd ’24 served as the organist.

A dance performance from a senior dance ensemble included Lorcan M. Baxter ’24, Bryce Griggs ’24, Ella Rose Schaefer ’24, Tori A. Schneider ’24, Eliana Florence Stern ’24, and Madeleine E. Tevonian ’24.

The call to prayer was presented by Nafis A. Munim ’24, Islam; Eli A. Elder ’24 and Eliana Florence Stern ’24, Judaism; Nayla J. Brunnbauer ’24 and Emma R. Nolte ’24, Christianity; and Diego A. Leon ’24, Buddhism.

Terra Winston-Sage ’00, Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, provided the closing reflection.

Go out from this place, to serve the world around you,” she told the graduates. “Do this with joy in your heart, and with all the wisdom, community, and love you’ve gained throughout your life.”