The second weekend of May 2020 marked two big milestones for Carrie Lane Pearlman: her first Mother’s Day as a mother, and her graduation from Berklee College of Music. Pearlman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in music business through Berklee Online, spent the day with her husband and newborn son at their home in Verona, New Jersey, watching the ceremony from their living room in full Commencement regalia, pictured below. As a singer/songwriter, model, and advocate for people with chronic illnesses, Pearlman’s Berklee Online years overlapped with several intense life moments, especially during the pandemic.
“During my time at Berklee I was able to learn so much about advancing my craft while moving across the country, getting married, facing a life-changing illness, enduring a high-risk pregnancy, and having a healthy baby boy,” she says.
The illness she speaks of is type 1 diabetes, which meant her pregnancy was more at-risk than most, but thankfully, everything turned out well. “It was such a special weekend to enjoy graduation and my first Mother’s Day as just the three of us,” she says.
Pearlman was one of hundreds of Berklee Online students who tuned in for a weekend of remote Commencement festivities, from a virtual concert celebrating honorary doctorates John Legend, Mikhail Baryshnikov, André De Shields, Sheila E., and Cassandra Wilson, to the Commencement ceremony. Although the coronavirus pandemic prevented the class of 2020 from experiencing the in-person sendoff in Boston, these graduates are resilient and adaptable. They celebrated the same way that they achieved their degrees: by logging in and showing up.
Not only did Ryan Harris, a Music Business/Management Berklee Online graduate, watch the Commencement concert from his home in Maryland, but he got to take part in it, virtually singing alongside John Legend during his tribute. Harris graduated after an eight-year journey with Berklee, that began as a campus student with his twin brother, and ended as an online student.
“My twin brother attended Berklee with me and we had an awesome time,” says Harris about attending the Berklee campus in Boston. “However, when we considered the financial cost of the two of us returning together, even with my scholarships, the outcome was not as favorable as we thought. For two years we took classes at other institutions while trying to navigate a path forward.”
That path forward was the degree completion program through Berklee Online that allowed Harris and his brother to continue their coursework.
“From my first semester at the Boston campus, it was my goal to perform in the Commencement concert,” says Harris. “After transitioning to Berklee Online, I didn’t think it was possible. I was humbled, honored, and grateful after being selected as lead vocalist for the John Legend tribute.”
In Des Moines, Iowa, Allegra Hernandez watched the ceremony with their mom, while other family members tuned in from across the country. Hernandez earned their degree in Interdisciplinary Music Studies, with a focus in guitar, music business, and production. They transferred to Berklee Online when their previous college, McNally Smith College of Music, closed in 2017.
“I felt inspired that I could learn from world-class musicians even though I was learning from home,” says Hernandez, pictured above. “Initially, when I transferred, coming from an on-campus program, I didn’t think I would have the ability to form these strong connections. But I learned that all of the students and professors are very motivated and really do want to connect with you.”
In August, Hernandez will start a new position as a studio director for a recording studio that is entirely owned and operated by women and non-binary people. In fact, it’s the second recording studio of its kind in the US.
“I learned so much and was able to apply it directly to my current work as a musician,” says Hernandez. “All in all, I am proud of how self-sufficient and self-motivated I became not only as a student, but also personally and professionally.”
Karen Naifeh Harmon took what she learned at Berklee Online, and also applied it directly to her current work as a composer and conductor. Since she started at Berklee Online, Harmon has had three world premieres of her compositions. Harmon spent graduation weekend with her family at her mom’s ranch near Tulsa, Oklahoma (see below).
“It was very fitting, as my mom was my inspiration to go for a music degree,” says Harmon. “Mom was 50 when she received her Violin Performance degree from the University of Tulsa. I am 51 and receiving my degree in Music Composition for Film, TV, and Games from Berklee College of Music. The whole weekend was wonderful.”
Harmon is currently writing a concerto for a cellist in the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. She’s also teaching Irish fiddling and film and video game music composition at her private studio.
“I really owe a lot to D.J. Sparr and Phillip Sheeran for inspiring me in my orchestration classes,” says Harmon. “I also owe a lot to my Interactive Scoring for Games teacher, Michael Sweet. He is an incredible teacher and he gave me great advice on how to make it as a musician, especially with what the world is going through right now.”
In many ways, Regina Brown-Ross has already made it as a musician, after being in the business for more than 30 years, performing with such greats as Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, and Gladys Knight. But after long-term exposure to pollution from living in China took a toll on her vocal health, Brown-Ross decided to earn her music business degree through Berklee Online, while her vocal cords recovered.
“Berklee has kept me connected to the music and helped rebuild my confidence as I continue to rehabilitate my voice,” says Brown-Ross. “I am so very proud to be on the other side and to have accomplished my goal.”
Although Brown-Ross and all of the Berklee Online graduates are emerging into a music industry with many unknowns, they’re well-equipped to improvise and adapt their music to the digital realm. They’re developing apps (Pearlman), starting podcasts (Harris), releasing EPs (Hernandez), composing (Harmon), and procuring sync placements for their music (Brown-Ross). A pandemic couldn’t stop them from celebrating all that they’ve accomplished, and if there’s anyone who’s ready for a virtual musical landscape, it’s Berklee Online’s class of 2020.
“We must be open to diversification, possibilities, and new ways of accomplishing our goals in this new world environment,” says Brown-Ross.