Dartmouth graduation

Commencement speaker and renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed a short piece of music following his speech at Dartmouth College on Sunday.

HANOVER — Renowned musician Yo-Yo Ma reminded Dartmouth College students of the power they have, and the need to harness that power.

“You will always have more power than you know. Never abuse this power; it is a gift,” Ma said. “Use it with great care and intention.”

Ma, the Grammy award-winning cellist, was this year’s commencement speaker, and he received an honorary degree from the school for his artistic and humanitarian work.

Ma told the graduates they will soon be leading lives that involve the use of power, whether that is in medicine, business or within a family, and that the decisions they make will have a deep impact on those around them.

“Power isn’t something we’re born with knowing how to use,” he said. “There’s no guide for using power with restraint.”

Too often, Ma said, we see what it looks like when power is abused, whether through direct actions, or through failure to act to use power for the good.

“I am sure in your lifetime you have witnessed the abuse of power. We certainly have all seen it in our nation and around the world,” Ma said. “I’ve seen too many people who choose to build walls rather than bridges.”

Worse, he said, is when we come up with ways to excuse these abuses, forgetting our shared humanity.

“We are forgetting about the empathy we are born with,” he said.

Dartmouth College graduation

Graduates process up to the campus common for the start of the 249th commencement ceremony at Dartmouth College on Sunday.

Ma encouraged the graduating students to remember their humanity as they go out into the world by remembering and harnessing the shared culture that ties all people together.

“Culture resists reduction, and constantly reminds us of the beautiful complexion people are made of,” Ma said.

That culture does not have to take the form of fine arts, he said. Ma shared a story about his childhood, when he met the Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals. After performing for Casals, the 7-year-old Ma spoke to him.

‘“Make sure you have time for baseball,’” Ma recalled Casals telling him. “That was wise counsel.”

Casals wanted to make sure the young Ma stayed connected to other children despite his musical gifts. Ma said this was part of Casals’ humanist view of the world, one that drove Casals to help the poor and refugees. Casals stayed connected to the culture, and he used his power with empathy, Ma said.

“Remember always that you are a human being first,” Ma said. “Practice your humanity.”

More than 1,900 degrees were awarded Sunday to the graduating students at Dartmouth College, who gathered on the campus commons in the June sunshine. The college estimates that more than 11,000 people were in attendance for the commencement. The senior class includes students from 46 states as well as the District of Columbia, and students from China, the United Kingdom, Korea and Canada.