Pellissippi State: Opera legend Mary Costa to serve as Commencement speaker

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Mary Costa
Mary Costa

Virtually every student who walks across the stage at the May 4 Pellissippi State Community College Commencement ceremony will know who Sleeping Beauty is, and many will have seen the timeless animated Disney movie.

What most of the participants won’t know is that the voice of Princess Aurora was done by Mary Costa, a legendary diva of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City who now makes her home in East Tennessee.

Costa, a native Knoxvillian, will “sing” the praises of graduates’ accomplishments as speaker at this year’s Commencement address.

During her operatic career, the world-renowned soprano performed in 44 roles on the American and European stage. She played the title role in Jules Massenet’s “Manon” at the Met. She also sang the lead of Violetta Valéry in Guiseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Royal Opera House in London.

A recipient of the Disney Legends Award, Costa has been bestowed some of the highest honors of opera, among them, the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award and acknowledgement by the Metropolitan Opera Guild for Distinguished Verdi Performances of the 20th Century.

The Knoxville Opera Hall of Fame inductee also has served on the National Council on the Arts. Council members, who advise the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts on agency policies and programs, are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.

Costa now spends much of her time volunteering with schools and colleges across the country to inspire youth, especially those studying music. Last October, she was honored by Pellissippi State with a special tribute presentation of the Faculty Recital Showcase, part of the school’s annual concert series. The concert, which highlighted Costa’s volunteerism in education, was a natural fit, says Bill Brewer, the college’s Music program coordinator:

“Mary puts so much of her energy into supporting young people and encouraging them in music. Her support of our students and the Music program here at Pellissippi State has made a world of difference in the way we see ourselves. The students are ‘awestruck’ by her beauty and grace, as well as by the fact that she takes notice of their talents and achievements.”

This year, Pellissippi State will confer a record number of 1,166 associate’s degrees. Approximately 2,801 students also completed certificates during the academic year. In 2011, 992 students were awarded associate’s degrees and another 509 completed certificates.

Pellissippi State’s Commencement ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena.

For additional information regarding the ceremony, the college or the Music program, call (865) 694-6400 or visit