Education Key to Making a Difference

By Robert C. Jones, Jr.

Education Key to Making a Difference

By Robert C. Jones, Jr.
Thursday’s graduate degree ceremony was the largest in UM history

Girls don’t play drums. It’s not very feminine and physically demanding.

Fortunately, Ksenija Komljenovic ignored those ill words of advice and pursued her passion, learning how to play not only the drums but many other percussion instruments she was told would make her look less attractive to boys.

“The marimba, the xylophone, the timpani, the snare—I learned them all,” said Komljenovic, whose love for such instruments would take her from her native Serbia to the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, where she graduated Thursday with a doctorate degree in instrumental performance in what was the largest graduate degree ceremony (221 Ph.D.s and 867 master’s) in UM’s history.

“It’s been a long process of connecting the dots, but the journey isn’t over,” she said. That journey will take her across the Balkans this summer to present her research on the social and cultural perceptions of female percussionists and to advocate for more women in the arts.

“When I was 16, I saw my first percussion recital and just loved it,” recalled Komljenovic. “My first thoughts were that there were no female percussionists on stage and that perhaps it wasn’t my place to join them.”

But gender and the criticism of others should never be an “obstacle to doing what you love,” she continued. “Hopefully, my studies will help create an environment of inclusiveness in the arts and make the world a better place where girls and boys don’t shy away from playing an instrument or pursuing a profession because of race, gender, or economic status.”

Komljenovic’s desire to better the world was echoed by the ceremony’s speaker and honorary degree recipient, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who told graduates that “education helps us deal not only with our own problems but those of others.”

The recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and the 2011 winner of the U.S. National Humanities Medal, Sen, who is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in welfare economics and social choice theory, said the world is full of disadvantaged people. “We cannot escape the fact that we can do more to help human suffering,” he said, urging students to think of what they could do to help lessen the misery of others.

Espousing the benefits of knowledge, he said a good college education can make a “dramatic difference to human freedom” and our own capabilities, and noted such college-educated leaders as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela had a tremendous impact on the world.

The ability to reason distinguishes us from animals, Sen told graduates, wishing them “a thrilling life of reasoning, about yourselves and about the lives of others.”

UM’s commencement ceremonies continue Friday with three undergraduate exercises starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Watsco Center.