In his commencement speech to Northwestern University’s graduating class of 2014, Riccardo Muti urged students to go forth and make their voices heard in the world.

“Each of you will have a personal experience that is unique — that will enable you to express your voice in a world where only dialogue is the hope of the future,” said Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in his keynote speech at NU’s graduation ceremony June 20 at Ryan Field in Evanston. During the ceremony, the maestro also received an honorary degree from Northwestern, adding to the more than 20 he has received from universities worldwide, including, most recently, a degree from the Università per Stranieri “Dante Alighieri” in Reggio Calabria, Italy, on Oct. 13.

Others receiving honorary NU degrees were R&B/soul music icon Stevie Wonder, actress Cloris Leachman (an NU alumna), economist Richard Easterlin and museum chief Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Muti urged graduating students to focus on improving worldwide communication, because with all of the different methods of communication available today, “people still don’t seem to understand each other,” he said. As dialogue disappears through the use of electronic media, music remains a way of communicating that transcends boundaries, and is “one of the few things that can bring this terrible world together.”

Muti also discussed his Paths of Friendship project, part of his work with the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini (Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra), which he founded in 2004, and the Ravenna Festival in Italy. He and the youth orchestra travel to troubled areas of the world, using music to promote hope and unity. “I know that music has the ability to bring people together,” he said. “People who don’t speak the same language and otherwise would not understand each other in terms of culture, ethnicity and
religion. Each of you, no matter what your expertise, has the same ability to bring people together.”

For more on Maestro Muti, visit and his personal website,

PHOTO: Riccardo Muti joins Morton Schapiro, Northwestern University president, after giving the 2014 commencement speech. | Todd Rosenberg Photography