Montana State University

There is no app for this life:

December 16, 2013 -- Philip Aaberg's charge to the Montana State University graduating class on Dec. 14, 2013

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Thank you Dr. Cruzado, dear friends and colleagues. Thank you. The last time I was on this stage was with the Elvin Bishop Band….2 guitars, bass and drums, and keyboards. You might think it would be overwhelming, to be up here all alone without a band. But I’m not. You, my fellow commencers, are MY BAND! And YOU, my friends and family are my band. You, my teachers, are my band. And you, who have passed on into the cloud of witnesses who inform and watch over all of this, ARE MY BAND.

My grandparents, Peter and Elizabeth Kuhry took my brother and me into their home when our father left. They helped raise me from the age of 2. They moved to Montana a hundred years ago. My grandfather spoke 4 languages, yet he had to move his 5 children and his wife into what was known as the Poor House, in Chester, when he couldn’t get work. Every county in Montana had shelter for people who were down on their luck. My mother, Helen Ann, could not finish college because of her family’s poverty, but was one of the smartest people I know, head of the state genealogy society and a fierce bridge player, post master for years in Chester.  My Band helps people out. We don’t look down on those who need help. We aren’t ashamed to ask for help when we need it.

It takes a LOT of help, even with “all the rights and privileges” that come with an MSU degree. But there is no App for this life. It takes a lot of help. I could not do what I do without my wife, Patty.  And my 12-year-old son, Jake, who keeps me moving. My sons Sean, Mike, and Dan. And my brother, Steve, the world’s best plains paleo-ethno-botanist, who attended MSU and graduated from Cal Berkeley.  I would slow to a stop without my friends and family.

There is no App for this life. It takes a lot of help. I share this honor with the MSU Music Department, past, present, and future. When I was in high school, I attended the summer chamber music camps at MSU, and rehearsed in the sheep shearing Quonset huts, and the tiny wooden building that was the music department’s home.  Charles Paine and Henry Campbell, MSU faculty pianists helped me a lot. Henry is still teaching seven days a week in Bozeman at age 87.  Music is for life. MSU music has played a powerful role in Montana’s culture, and in that of the world. What would we do without music? My band, think about that when you download music for free, when you ask a musician to play for free.  You, MY BAND, are not mere consumers: you encourage the musicians of the future by honoring their profession.

There is no App for this life. Not on your smart phone. Sometimes the distance between point A and B is not a straight line. This is the first college graduation gown I’ve worn. At Harvard, many of us refused to wear the cap and gown, because we were protesting our school’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Sometimes I think this was not the best time to be in college. But because that time in history left a lot of us up in the air, I did not have a blueprint for my future…and in many ways that prepared me for the reality of my life….and the reality is, that THERE IS NO APP FOR THIS, AND THERE NEVER WILL BE.

Why? Because there has never been another person in the history of the world like you. And there NEVER will be. You are not a cliché. You are not a stereotype. In the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, we read that a Stereotype is: A metal printing plate cast from a matrix that is molded from a raised printing surface, such as type. And that Cliché is from the French and is imitative of the sound made when the matrix is dropped into the molten metal to make a stereotype plate.  For you and me, there is no matrix, there is no app.

I’m on the state Tourism Advisory Council, and one of Montana tourism’s slogans is “Get Lost in Montana”.  I recommend that! To find yourself, be fearless…. leave the path that others may have planned for you.

We’re here to find out who we are. You are not a stereotype. So, my band, as we commence together, I encourage you to do your best. Be happy. Find out who you are...

Now, I have two short tunes to play for you. You’ll recognize the first one, and the second is called “Sleighed.”  Thank you all very much.


Editor's note:

Philip Aaberg, is a keyboardist, composer and musician who received an honorary doctorate in music from MSU on Dec. 14.

A native of Chester, Mont., Aaberg is a graduate of Harvard University, which he attended on a Leonard Bernstein Scholarship. He became a keyboardist for some of the world's most iconic bands and later became internationally recognized for his Windham Hill recordings. He and his family have returned to Chester. When he is not busy composing and recording, he and his wife, Patty, advocate for the arts. They are co-founders of Arts Without Boundaries, a statewide nonprofit that provides music and arts lessons and deepens experiences in the arts for children in Montana communitiesTo read more about Aaberg, go to

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