Marilyn Horne Reminisces about Childhood in Bradford

BRADFORD, Pa. – For a moment Sunday afternoon, opera legend Marilyn Horne presented an alternate scenario for not only the city of Bradford, but also for herself.

Speaking to the media before addressing the largest graduating class in University of Pittsburgh at Bradford history, she wondered if perhaps her family might have stayed in Bradford had Pitt-Bradford existed in 1945.

She later touched on the same idea during her speech to the graduates.

“Who would have thought when I left in 1945, that I’d be back speaking to the graduating class at Pitt-Bradford, which didn’t even exist at the time,” she said, explaining that her family left Bradford when she was 11 in part to seek an affordable higher education for her and her sister, Gloria.

She also spoke about her personal history with her hometown. Although she has graced the world’s most important stages, her first performance was at age 4, singing at a rally for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt held in Limestone, N.Y.

Growing up in Bradford during World War II, she and her sister, known as “The Horne Sisters” sang at war bond drives, scrap drives and paper drives. She sprinkled her speech with brief explanations of these events.

Horne, 77, made other references to the changing world – to the prevalence of e-mail and texting and worried about the inability of people today to concentrate, which she said is crucial to success.

She also reached out with sympathy to the younger generation.

“You carry huge burdens because of the world in which we live,” she said. “My generation has done the best it could, but I’m sure that it could have done better. You are the citizens who will have to come to grips with global warming, nuclear proliferation and nuclear power.

“You’re world is much more complicated than the world I grew up in. We are now communicating faster than ever before, but I sometimes question the effectiveness of that communication.”

However, she also expressed her confidence in the graduates’ generation to tackle today’s problems.

“One of you sitting here many be the one to cure Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “Everyone has a gift. It may be the patience and skill to nurture little children as they learn to read. It may be the ability to solve complex issues. It may be your ability to inspire others to lend a helping hand.”

Also addressing the class briefly was George B. Duke, owner of Zippo Manufacturing Co., who was honored with the Presidential Medal of Distinction, the highest honor Pitt-Bradford can bestow upon someone.

Duke saw his gifts to the university and the city as the legacy of his grandfather, Zippo founder George G. Blaisdell.

“He remembered Bradford in very special ways,” he said, and taught his daughters, Sarah B. Dorn and Harriett B. Wick, to give back also.

Also recognized at commencement was Dr. Lee Colosimo, who was honored with the second Pitt-Bradford Alumni Association’s Alumni Award of Distinction.

Colosimo is a cardiothoracic surgeon in Texas and attended Pitt-Bradford from 1965-1967 before completing his bachelor’s degree and earning his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

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