Students Celebrate Diversity with John Legend at Cultural Rhythms

John Legend at Harvard's Cultural Rhythms 2012
Hojung Lee, Bran S. Shim, and Jennifer Wang

Deafening applause filled Sanders Theater as nine-time Grammy Award winning musician John Legend received the Harvard Foundation’s annual “Artist of the Year” Award at the 27th Cultural Rhythms celebration Saturday.

Harvard Foundation Director S. Allen Counter, who introduced Legend and presented him with the award before the show’s finale, said “the incomparable” Legend was selected for the award because of both his musical and humanitarian accomplishments. After receiving his award, Legend made a short speech to the crowd praising the diversity of the event.

“The thing about diversity is that you see how much we’re alike, you see how much we’re connected,” he said. “This has been an amazing celebration of that.”

Legend also emphasized the need for access to quality education in America and around the world, urging Harvard students to remember to make affect positive change in the world.

“You guys have it all,” he told the crowd. “To whom much is given, much is expected. Take this education you have, this wonderful gift, do whatever you’re going to do in life, be successful at whatever you’re going to do in life, but don't forget to give back, don't forget to use these resources you have to make the world a better place.”

Cultural Rhythms, which consists of two different shows in the afternoon and evening, featured performances by over 60 different cultural groups. This year, Cultural Rhythms was directed by Carola A. Cintron-Arroyo '12 and Eric Lu '12.

Groups in the afternoon show were permitted to send two members to have a brief question-and-answer session with Legend. Representatives from each student group presented him with a rose.

Kuumba members, in turn, gave him the traditional scarf that they wear during their performances.

Legend, who also MC'd the event, asked the performers to give him a history of their dance, in addition to their name and concentration.

Cracking jokes and engaging with the audience, Legend performed an impromptu a capella segment of his hit song “Ordinary People” when a member of the Wushu performance group mentioned that it was her friend's birthday.

“According to my roast, I only have one song,” he said, before he began to sing. Legend also signed a dancer's notebook and another performer's shoe.

While Legend was the guest of honor, the student performance groups had no trouble holding the attention of the crowd during their varied cultural performances.

The student acts, which ranged from the impossible acrobatics and sword play of the Harvard Wushu Club to the soulful songs of Kuumba,  elicited enormous applause from the audience. After the finale, in which members from each group stood together on stage and performed different portions of their pieces, the audience and Legend gave the performers a standing ovation.

Alice Abracen '15, a student who attended the performance, said the show was “amazing.”

“It's amazing to see what students created,” she added. “I knew they were talented, but not that talented.”

Performers said that this year's Cultural Rhythms was a monumental success.

“The show was great,” said Albert J. Oh '13, who performed with the Harvard Breakers. “We couldn't even hear the music because there was so much cheering going on.”

For Maricruz Rodriguez '12, the president of the Ballet Folklorico de las Americas, one highlight of the show was the opportunity to meet John Legend.

“It was such an honor,” Rodriguez said. “His work, both humanitarian and musical, is very powerful.”

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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