It seemed only fitting that Annie Lennox would break into song while giving the commencement address for the Berklee College of Music Saturday at the Agganis Arena.
Lennox, who also received an honorary doctorate alongside Carole King and Willie Nelson, spoke movingly about her hardscrabble Scottish roots — she used to play a toy piano in her family’s two-room flat — and the superstardom that followed, first with Eurythmics and then as a solo artist.
With any luck, she said, her story might inspire the latest batch of Berklee grads to appreciate “the value of unorthodoxy.” She also counseled the students to use life’s sudden detours as opportunities.
“Wherever you think you’re heading right now might turn out to take a completely different path. What looks like an ending might actually be the start of a brand-new beginning,” she said. “Wherever and however we find ourselves, what a privilege it is to enrich our lives through music: the incredible universal language of the soul.”
As she told her tale, Lennox’s voice rang out with occasional a cappella snippets of songs, including “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Wichita Lineman,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and King’s classic “It’s Too Late,” all to huge cheers.
Also at the ceremony was Kris Kristofferson, who helped confer the doctor of music honors on his good buddy Nelson.
“The history of music has been good, but the future is even better thanks to you folks,” Nelson told the students.
Kristofferson arrived in Boston Friday to jam with Nelson at Berklee’s commencement concert, when the student orchestra performs music of the artists receiving the honorary degrees. Nelson and Kristofferson joined them for a version of Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” and Nelson also performed his own “Night Life” with the students. Lennox got in on the action, too, collaborating with the kids on a rendition of her 1992 ballad “Cold.”
Although King didn’t speak at Saturday’s ceremony, or play at the concert, she did pull Berklee president Roger Brown onstage during the show to boogie as the students played “The Locomotion,” one of the 100 or so hit singles King, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, helped write. At commencement the next day, Brown made a solemn pledge to future graduating classes that they would not be subjected to his dance moves.