It’s hard for any university graduate to see into the future, but when Angela Meade attended commencement at Pacific Lutheran University in 2001, she probably didn’t guess that within 12 years she’d have won dozens of elite opera competitions, sung on stages from New York’s Metropolitan to the Vienna State Opera, and performed with musicians such as Charles Dutoit, Roberto Abbado and Plácido Domingo.
But she’d definitely dreamed about it — and when she returns to PLU on May 26 to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony, the soprano and rising opera star will use her own experiences to inspire new graduates to do what she did:
Find their passion and work to achieve their goals.
“Angela is a superb example of our music program and the type of wonderful talent it draws,” said PLU President Thomas Krise, on why Meade was chosen as this year’s commencement speaker. “She is a role model for those who seek their vocation in life. Angela has found her passion and, when she shares that gift with others, she instills great joy.”
Meade’s opera trajectory has been heady. Growing up in Centralia, she got the solos in church and school choirs, but didn’t really latch onto opera until a teacher at Centralia College recognized her vocal potential and recommended her to PLU. She dove into the world of opera, and after graduation got her master’s degree in music at the University of Southern California before being accepted into the Academy of Arts in Philadelphia.
Then her career got the kind of kick-start most opera students only dream about: After winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions in 2007, she’d signed on as a cover (or understudy) for Sondra Radvanovsky in the lead of Verdi’s “Ernani” at The Met.
Radvanovsky got sick — and Meade sang the role to enormous acclaim.
Since then, Meade hasn’t looked back. She’s entered and won more than 50 other competitions, landing prestigious prizes and awards (most recently the Beverly Sills, in January). She’s been called “lavishly gifted” by the New Yorker.
Yet Meade is the first to say that such a lustrous career doesn’t happen by accident. On the phone with The News Tribune, she talked about how to find what you love and succeed at it.
Q: Speaking at a university commencement is quite a bit different from ruling the stage as “Norma.” How are you feeling about it?
A: I was super-flattered and honored they even thought of me, to be honest.
Q: What will you speak about?
A: I’m actually in the process of writing it right now; I haven’t totally figured it all out. But I’ll talk a lot about finding passion in life, and doing what you love.
Q: Tell us about your experience at PLU — that was where you discovered opera, right?
A: I first sang a bit at Centralia College, but (PLU) is where I ended up really pursuing it. It’s the first place I sang an entire opera — where I got my feet wet, so to speak.
Q: What did your studies there give you?
A: The teachers there really guide you; there are a lot of opportunities to stand out. I’m really appreciative of everything they do there.
As well as the opera school, I also sang in Choir of the West and Choral Union, and had a lot of opportunities to do solo and concert work. I learned a lot of roles — the Countess in “Marriage of Figaro,” Rosalinde in “Die Fledermaus,” “Suor Angelica,” all those. I had great teaching.
Q: Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?
A: At that time, I was bound and determined to move to New York. I thought that’s what you were supposed to do, so I was going to do it, even despite the guidance of my teachers, who I think knew I was a bit too headstrong. I ended up going there, I got accepted into the Manhattan School of Music, but I left after 9/11.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned at college?
A: I learned a lot about myself, what I wanted as a singer. I thought for many years I was going to be a doctor, but I wasn’t really happy about it. I learned to be immersed as a singer, to know what I wanted as opposed to what other people wanted for me.
Q: Opera is a highly competitive career. What’s the best skill new grads can have in their toolbox for entering competitive fields?
A: I definitely think you have to be a hard worker. You need to know what you’re going for, what your goal is, and make a plan. You can’t expect your dreams and goals to just happen — you have to work at them.
Q: What do you hope grads will take away from your commencement speech?
A: One thing I would highlight is that you need to find something you’re passionate about, and make a plan to get there.
Pierce Countys three four-year institutions of higher learning are moving into graduation season this month:
University of Puget Sound
Time and date: 2 p.m. May 19
Place: Baker Stadium, UPS campus
Commencement speaker: Philip Zimbardo, psychologist, Stanford University professor
Graduating this year will be 755 students, 639 of whom will get bachelors degrees. Another 116 graduate studies students will receive masters or doctoral degrees.
The public is welcome. No tickets required.
Commencement speaker Philip Zimbardo has been a Stanford University professor since 1968. He previously taught at Yale, New York University and Columbia University. He is a former president of the American Psychological Association.
Hes also an author and known for his video series, Discovering Psychology. His textbook, Psychology and Life, is in its 19th edition. His books include The Time Paradox (2008) and The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (2007).
Lucifer followed his work with the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which 24 college student volunteers engaged in an experiment. Some played the role of guards and others acted as prisoners. The two-week experiment ended after just six days, when the aggressive behavior of the guards escalated as their perceived power turned toxic.
More recently, Zimbardo has explored another side of the human psyche with the Heroic Imagination Project.
I have to believe that creating a generation of such ordinary heroes is our best defense against evil, whether on the battlefield, in prisons or in corporate headquarters, he said in a 2007 interview with the How to Change the World blog.
University President Ronald R. Thomas will present Zimbardo with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
Honorary doctor of law degrees will go to Norm Dicks, who recently retired after 18 terms in the U.S. House, and Debbie Regala, a 1968 graduate of UPS who has served in both chambers of the Legislature over the course of 18 years.
Congressman Dicks and Senator Regala exemplify the principles of informed and engaged citizenship so central to our educational mission at Puget Sound, Thomas said. Whether you are talking about jobs, social justice, the environment or the welfare and protection of our nation, Norm and Debbie have been with us and the people of our region.
Pacific Lutheran University
Time and date: 2:30 p.m. May 26
Place: Tacoma Dome
Commencement speaker: Angela Meade, 2001 PLU graduate
A total of 550 undergraduates and 75 graduate students will participate in the ceremony. About another 50 graduate students will receive degrees but wont be at the May 26 ceremony.
No tickets are required for the graduation. The university encourages friends and family members of graduates to attend.
University of Washington Tacoma
Time and date: 10 a.m. June 14
Place: Tacoma Dome
Commencement speakers: University of Washington President Michael Young and UWT Chancellor Debra Friedman
About 1,000 students the biggest graduating class ever will be receiving diplomas. The ceremony will be open to the public; no tickets are required.
New this year: The names of each student will be projected on large screens, along with video showing the student accepting his or her degree and shaking the hands of campus leaders. If students choose, they can have a personal message displayed on the screen as they walk across the stage.
Graduates will have a plastic card with an identifying magnetic stripe that theyll swipe as they approach the stage. Computers then take care of the coordination of the name, message and video.