Pieczonka: Don’t fear struggles, embrace them

Many challenges await today’s graduates, but the difficulties they encounter will serve them well on their journey to success, said renowned opera singer Adrianne Pieczonka.

Pieczonka spoke to graduates from the Don Wright Faculty of Music, Faculty of Arts & Humanities, Faculty of Science, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, King’s University College and School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the Friday, Oct. 26 morning session of Western’s 300th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Music, honoris causa (DMus) upon Pieczonka in recognition of her distinguished international music career as a soprano opera singer.

“The road ahead will be bumpy at times. You most certainly will make mistakes and live to regret them,” Pieczonka said. “To err is human. Through struggles and setbacks we grow and improve, not only in our careers but as human beings.”

Pieczonka, an alumna of Western, describes herself as a hard-working, no-nonsense soprano, who as a child enjoyed being in the spotlight. She once wrote to comedian Carol Burnett, asking, “How can I be more like you?”

Influenced by Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Billy Joel and Supertramp – among others – Pieczonka continued her music education at the University of Toronto’s Opera Division. At the age of 25, she received a Distinguished Graduate Award and a Canada Council grant to study in London, England.

Having worked with international conductors such as James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Sir Neville Marriner, the late Richard Bradshaw and the late Sir Georg Solti on stages across Europe, North America and Asia, Pieczonka’s delivery of various roles, such as her interpretations of Strauss and Wagner’s strong and tragic women, have received many accolades.

“There is a Groundhog Day quality to life and the key is not to take anything for granted,” Pieczonka said.

In her citation, Faculty of Music dean Betty Anne Younker praised Pieczonka’s innate talent.

“From her early experiences with the Canadian Opera Company chorus to professional debuts, Ms. Pieczonka has been recognized as one of the most successful sopranos on the international opera scene, one who has a phenomenal talent, as reflected through exemplary musicianship and performances that resound with beauty and integrity,” Younker said.

“Ms. Pieczonka’s international presence on opera and recital stages is strongly felt and her reputation as a committed and disciplined artist is well known. Performances captured on CDs have resulted in Juno nominations and awards; her successes have led to her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada. Today we honour her because of her contributions as a consummate artist.”

Pieczonka added graduates must always see themselves as beginners on a journey.

“There’s an ancient Zen Buddhist practice, to approach each day as if we were beginners. To adopt an elitist attitude robs us of doing the work. I don’t mind thinking of myself as a beginner and, I hope, you don’t mind my thinking of you as beginners. Beginnings are full of promise.”

Also during the ceremony, the status of chancellor emeritus was conferred upon John Thompson, Western’s 20th chancellor.