2024 Class Day remarks by key note speaker, Molly Bolten ’14

By Molly Bolten ’14

Good afternoon Princeton Music graduates! Please excuse my hoarse voice—I’ve been shouting over very loud music for the last three days. As Professor Snyder told you, I graduated from Princeton ten years ago with a major in music and a certificate in creative writing… obviously, I did it for the money. I’m assuming you all also majored in music for the money. Honestly though, parents, I promise that I really have managed to build a fulfilling career using my music degree. It can absolutely be done.

In any case, I’m incredibly  honored to be here to help usher you into this next big chapter of your lives. If you’re anything like me on this day ten years ago, you’ve spent the last three days squeezing the few remaining drops out of your life here—spending meaningful time with friends and watching guys who fought in World War II shotgun a beer like they’re 22.

You’ve spent the last four years under the auspices of Princeton’s exceptional, very singular music department. To study somewhere with such a rich history of groundbreaking music experimentation, with professors who are not only world-renowned in their fields but want to share their knowledge with young music students—we are very lucky people. 

I’ve been a musician all my life, but it was here at Princeton that I really learned how to listen to music. Not just how to identify chords by ear or tell the difference between serialism and twelve-tone row. What I mean is, I learned how to receive music with the reverence and open heart it deserves. 

I’ll never forget being in a lecture class with Paul Lansky, where he put on the first forty seconds of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and we listened to it together, blasting through the classroom speakers in Woolworth. When he turned it off, he said, with true adoration in his voice, “Isn’t that wonderful?” 

I’d heard that song a million times before, but in that room it was like I heard it for the first time. And it was perfect.

Music is divine, it’s magic. It’s a way of life. As forever music students, it’s our duty to stay curious and keep a varied and voracious musical diet. There’s something to be learned from every single piece of music in the universe—listen to it all without pretension.

I can talk forever about music, but we’re here today because you’re saying goodbye to the safe cocoon of Princeton, with its leafy courtyards and free food listservs… and taking your first steps into a much, much bigger place. This is all new, mostly unknown territory for you. But the good news is that you’ve spent the last four years learning how to do life’s most important thing: listen.

In writing this speech, I thought about what I wish someone had told me at 22. I polled friends and consulted my favorite media for answers, and realized that everything I found could be boiled down to paying attention to the right things, to listening. 

So as you set forth into your new world, here are my listening recommendations.


The most important relationship you have in this life is the one you have with yourself. In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, she writes, “treating yourself like a precious object will make you strong.” It’s a lifelong pursuit, but I’m finding this to be remarkably true. 

Listen to your body, and learn how to take excellent care of yourself. As an adult, no one can or will do that better than you. Learn to cook. Drink so much water. Get a 32oz water bottle and drink like four of that per day. If you’re feeling frisky, put some lemon in it. If you don’t already, start flossing. Get one of those long flossers with the disposable heads—it’s so much easier than regular floss. Invest in some good earplugs and wear them to every show. Your ears are precious. Take care of your skin. Moisturize everywhere, and use sunscreen on your face every single day, no matter the weather. Move your body every day—even if it’s just a stroll around the block—and always, always stretch. 

One day in a few years you’re going to look in the mirror and think, “huh, I look different.” You’re supposed to. Our bodies are not fixed—they get bigger and smaller and change shape and content. Don’t fret—a stronger and clearer you is emerging.

Make your home a sanctuary—I like to think of my home as a reflection of the inside of my mind. I’ve learned to view household chores like doing the dishes as acts of love to my future self. 

Spend quality time alone. I have no doubt that you’re all bright, wonderful people. Learn to enjoy your own company. Take yourself on dates. Go to the movies alone. 

Sometimes, many times, things will be hard. You cannot outrun heartache. It’s an important part of life. Let yourself feel the whole spectrum of your feelings, honor them, and then keep it moving. Find the frequency that allows you to tune into what you need. And finally, never say anything really mean about yourself out loud.


We live in a society, on a planet of 8 billion people, most of whom are just doing their best. Be kind. Be a good friend, and you’ll have good friends. Quality time with your friends is vital, a top priority. 

Be honest. With yourself, with others. So much unnecessary strife can be avoided by communicating kindly and truthfully. 

Always go to the party. If you get there and it sucks, hit the bricks. Life is too long not to explore every universe, but it’s too short to spend time with anyone who doesn’t give you life. 

Become a part of your community, wherever you live. Know your neighbors. Volunteer. Marvel at trees. Be present in your environment. Take headphone-free walks around your neighborhood—there is so much to hear in this world.


The universe is mostly chaos and luck. We control so much less than we think. Figure out what your true north is, i.e. what you really really love, and just follow that. Every once in a while, check in with yourself to see if you’re still going that way. Focus on the next right thing, which can be something as small as putting new strings on your guitar. Your compass will take you where you need to go. All you can do is relax and enjoy the ride. 

What is for you will not pass you by, and rejections are the universe reserving you for something else. Having it all figured out is literally impossible. Stay loose. Trust yourself and your perceptions. Everyone’s timeline is different. Make yourself a five-year plan, and then throw it in the garbage, because as they say, man plans and God laughs. And you should too, because things are not that serious, and a lot of this business of living is very funny.


Keep your creative practice alive—this is a lifelong commitment that will serve you well and provide your center. If you nourish your inner artist, you’ll never stop making stuff. 

Give yourself time to do nothing, to play, to lie on the floor and listen to music. Make bad art. Make tons of it. Make mistakes. Just keep the channel to your creativity open.


Our friend Julia Cameron also writes, “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” 

In order to survive, you have to stay listening for shimmers of delight. Because sometimes, life really sucks. Being alive is expensive and tiring and wholly unpredictable. But you keep going because there’s music and summer tomatoes and the way the light filters through the trees in spring. 

Joy is simple, elemental, often easily accessed. It’s about getting a chair you really love. It’s about fresh air coming through the window. It’s about eating the best Thai food of your life with good friends in a strip mall (sorry, I live in Los Angeles). Figure out the simplest things that bring you joy and acquire or do them regularly. Life is complicated, but delight is not.

So now you have my listening recommendations. And that’s all they are—recommendations. 

In about three years your brains will finish developing and then you’ll start to even out a bit in your late twenties and then you’ll turn thirty and start formulating your own ideas about how to live. And maybe you’ll give me a call and tell me all about them. 

Today, though, I am so excited for you to go off into the wild and make all the noise you want (while of course being mindful of your neighbors). 

I wish you all the luck and courage and delight. Just keep your ear to the ground.

Thank you.

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