The turning of the tassel, the tossing of caps and the marching to “Pomp and Circumstance” are quickly identified as commencement traditions widely performed at graduation ceremonies throughout the country.
At Taylor, however, one more element gets thrown into the mix — the bagpipe.
Filling the air with its uniquely distinctive hum, this instrument has been leading graduates into the processional at Taylor since former university president Lowell Haines led his first graduation ceremony on Taylor’s campus in 2016.
Every year since then, the same woman has been the one behind the pipes: Hope Oaks.
Before joining the Taylor commencement program, Oaks played with the Taylor Chorale for a Christmas concert. She also bagpiped at the memorial service where the Taylor community honored their peers lost in the van accident that occurred in 2006.
After experiencing the display of her skill at these events, Senior Director of Parent and Community Relations Joyce Wood reached out to Oaks on behalf of Haines requesting that she share her talents at commencement.
Since then, Oaks has been a part of the Taylor family.
Originally from Kokomo, Indiana, Oaks had always been musically inclined. Growing up playing the trumpet, she knew that music was something she would want to pursue and experience for the rest of her life.
“Sometimes, it can be challenging to express emotions with words; music is truly the language of the soul,” Oaks said. “Playing an instrument or singing allows us as humans to give our own unique expression to the notes on a page.”
She carried this feeling with her when college rolled around and she received a music performance scholarship, allowing her to continue chasing what she loved.
But the trumpet wasn’t her only instrument, and it was her home church that first introduced her to her newfound love.
“My family attended St. Andrew Church, and for the Feast of St. Andrew in November, they hired a bagpiper to play,” Oaks said. “She was excellent, and I knew then I wanted to learn. I always say (bagpipes) are loud, so if they are good, they are powerful, and if they are out of tune or played poorly, the effect is the opposite. I’m thankful my first time hearing them was a moving experience.”
Since learning the instrument, she has performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. Oaks has medaled in classical bagpipe music competitions and has even competed at multiple Highland Games held across the nation.
Oaks somehow makes time to play the bagpipe for over 100 events each year while also serving full-time as health and sciences specialist (HSS) territory manager for vaccines at Pfizer pharmaceutical company.
“I’ve probably played at approximately 10 graduations,” Oaks said. “Other events I’ve played (at) are weddings, funerals, birthday parties, corporate events, golf tournaments and even a bachelor party. I’ve been blessed to take part in the special moments of others' lives thousands of times.”
Oaks has been able to bring the traditional Scottish bagpipes to a multitude of different gatherings, sharing their beauty and distinctive tone with every ear that hears.
Through having this tradition students, friends and family members alike are able to join together and appreciate beautiful music in one unifying experience. It has become a staple of Taylor commencements, and Oaks makes it the incredible moment that it is.
“Being a musician has helped me learn to let my ego step aside and let the music flow from my heart,” Oaks said. “It has also taught me the lifelong continuing lessons of patience, persistence, commitment and resilience, to name a few. I’m truly blessed, and it has enriched my life beyond imagination.”