It’s not every day that a married couple graduates Berklee Online together, but this year Raffa DeFaria and Camilla DeFaria, from Coconut Creek, Florida, will celebrate earning their Interdisciplinary Studies degrees. 

“When my wife and I met 14 years ago we said we were going to ‘build together,’ and ever since that day, we’ve been building all aspects of our life together including our music career,” says Raffa. “Because of that, I would say that working on my degree with her was a ‘normal activity’ in our lives. I think the challenge would be not going through with her.”

Raffa plans on returning to Berklee Online this September as a music production master’s student. He and Camilla own Radical Coaching Studios, where they offer vocal training, piano and guitar lessons, and music production services. They’ll say they plan on adapting the business model for remote learning in the near future.

“Some classes were tough and deadlines were demanding, there were late nights and early mornings, there was even a worldwide pandemic, but nothing stopped us,” says Camilla, who plans to pursue her master’s in speech-language pathology. “We pushed through and we made it. Now it’s time to celebrate!”

“We pushed through and we made it. Now it’s time to celebrate!” —@BerkleeOnline Graduate @camilladefaria Click To Tweet

They’re planning on hosting a socially distant Brazilian barbecue, along with their closest family members, and even have friends and family tuning into the Commencement ceremony all the way from Brazil, New Zealand, London, and Sweden. 

This is the second year that Berklee’s Commencement will be held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 graduates have been through their share of adversity to get where they are today, but they are stronger, more resilient, and ready to take on the music industry.

The DeFaria family are not the only Berklee Online graduates who are expanding their music coaching into the online realm. Sanjib Mukherjee, who is graduating with a degree in Music Business, wants to create an online platform for teaching piano. 

Music Business Graduate Sanjib Mukherjee

“My dreams for the future include developing an online piano school and a coaching program to help musicians market themselves online to make a financially good living with their music,” he says. “I would also like to go deeper into my spirituality and to see how I can incorporate this into my musical and business plans.”

Sanjib is the founder of Yogi Warrior Tribe, a consultation service for entrepreneurs. He has been playing piano since the age of six, and says he views his music as an extension of his spirituality.

“I have coached thousands of people on how to develop a peak mindset, as well as teaching many entrepreneurs on how to build their business,” he says. “Spirituality, music, and entrepreneurship are all very important and connected to my life.”

Jermanni Cooper will be celebrating Commencement, and his 23rd birthday on the same day. This Songwriting graduate spent a year studying abroad at Berklee’s Valencia, Spain campus. 

Berklee Online Songwriting Graduate Jermanni Cooper

“Being in Valencia really helped me as an online student to build those connections and friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Jermanni. “I cherish all the friendships and people I’ve met throughout that year. I learned so much not only about music, but as a person, I learned to be more open to different things.”

Jermanni plans to celebrate both special May 8 occasions back home with his family in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

“Berklee was always my No. 1 school,” he says. “I didn’t have a second, third, or fourth plan. I knew this was the school I wanted to attend. I tried auditioning for the Boston campus, but it didn’t go as planned. Then, I found out about the online program. It was my way of not giving up on something I’ve always wanted, and I’m now achieving my dream.”

Interdisciplinary Studies graduate Kelonie Utley, who lives in a small farming community in the mountains of West Virginia, is also achieving her dream after some soul searching. As a survivor of abuse, she says that her writing courses, as well as some encouragement from her Academic Advisor Brian Choi, helped channel her trauma into something creative. Her book of poems Altered Reality: Long Walk to Freedom, which was published during her time as a BOL student is now available worldwide. 

“What I am most proud of with being at Berklee is how this college took a negative mindset and turned it into this positive person that isn’t afraid to achieve her dreams,” says Kelonie. “Each course helped me break away my low self-esteem to these new, exciting discoveries I found in myself. When I started at Berklee, I was depressed and my Academic Advisor Brian stood by my side the whole time. He saw me grow from this sad person to someone who is laughing, smiling, and looking at life in a different light.” 

Kelonie’s post-graduation plans include starting her own business called Porcelain Writers & Musicians, where she aspires to market and promote independent artists. 

“As an indie author myself, I realized how hard it was to get yourself out there,” she says. “This is when I decided I want to help artists become successful.”

Songwriting graduate Lauren May is another example of a Berklee Online student who overcame great challenges to graduate this spring. In September 2020, Lauren was hit by a car while walking in downtown Nashville. Still dealing with the repercussions, she says this accident helped reframe her dedication to her music and her degree. 

Berklee Online Songwriting Graduate Lauren May

“The first thing I thought when I got hit by the car was, well, I thought I was going to die, and then I thought about how I was going to die without the world getting to hear my music,” she says. “That really lit a fire under me and kept me pushing forward. It showed me how unpredictable and short life really is so you must take advantage of the time you have right now.”

Lauren used music to cope with her recovery and her next single is about the accident and dealing with the trauma of it all. She hopes to apply what she’s learned at Berklee Online to her future career as a musician, songwriter, and producer.

“I not only gained great friendships through my time at Berklee, but also gained confidence in myself as a songwriter and musician,” she says. “I look back on my music before Berklee and my music now, and I can truly see how much I’ve grown.”


 Published April 30, 2021