Dwight Dunston ’10 has taken the traditional path of an English major with an emphasis in poetry and pointed it toward the worlds of hip-hop and indie music, where the poetics now flow on stage under the name Sterling Duns, with his band, Futur Mama. When he’s not busy pursuing music, Dunston is the assistant director of admission at Philadelphia’s Friends’ Central School, where he also attended high school. Read on for more about Dunston’s Dickinson days, how he gives back and what he hopes his music can do for his audience.
How does Dickinson’s “useful education” apply to what you do, both at work and with your music?
At Dickinson, I spent a lot of time reading and digesting ideas and experiences inside and outside the classroom. I learned techniques about how to synthesize these experiences and put them on paper to make them accessible and relatable to readers. As an instrumentalist and hip-hop artist now, I’m doing the same thing in writing songs and trying to get people to understand where I’m coming from but also to see a bit of themselves in my work.
Dickinson also nurtured my compassion for people from all walks of life, because I was rooming, running track, doing class projects and traveling with people from very different upbringings than my own. These experiences certainly have had an impact on me at work, where I get to meet people from all different walks of life daily.
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
Definitely getting the chance to go abroad my junior year to Norwich, England. One of my favorite memories was visiting a friend on the Bologna, Italy, program and street performing in the Piazza Maggiore. We got to meet a lot of awesome people this way and even had some people join us for music as well.
Also, senior year, winning the Triple Crown on the men’s side (the Centennial Conference cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field championships) for the first time in Dickinson history was an unbelievable experience. Everyone worked really hard all year, but more than that, we all just clicked and supported each other in ways on and off the track like never before.
How did you get interested in what you’re working on musically now?
I really got interested in playing live music my first year at Dickinson. I’ve had a passion for hip-hop since I was little, but it was certainly nurtured at Dickinson. On the weekends, I would get together with friends who also had an affinity for hip-hop and spend hours putting on instrumentals and making up rhymes. And the next thing I knew, we were making mixtapes and music videos and performing in Philly, New York City and D.C. I even got to perform in Los Angeles and in Tel Aviv, Israel.
How would you sum up your musical ethos?
In everything I do with music, I just want to encourage and promote positivity through my words, through the beats, through the guitar. I want people to listen to my story and feel inspired to follow their dreams, to listen to my music and feel empowered to become the best version of themselves that they can possibly be. I want people to move around a little bit, bop their head. But I also want to challenge them to learn and grow and live big, big lives. Because I think we all deserve this.
What is the most challenging part of your life right now?
Finding time to do everything! I have a wonderful job working in admissions and coaching track and field and doing some diversity work at Friends’ Central School, which I love. I’ve got a few different music projects going on at the moment. I’m also involved with a few different community groups here in Philly geared toward equity and social justice, and I have friends and family to see, concerts to go to—the day gets packed.
But I’m grateful for everything the day brings, the bright spots and the challenges.
How do you stay involved with or support Dickinson? And why do you think it’s important?
By being in touch with former professors and coaches and just keeping up-to-date with the happenings on the Web site. I encourage all students to stay connected, because I think each Dickinsonian can think of one person still at Dickinson who had an impact on them, and I guarantee that person would love to hear from you.
Also, although I can’t give as much as I someday want to, I give back financially to Dickinson because I personally would not have been able to attend the school and have the experiences I did were it not for someone else giving back.
I think it’s important to support Dickinson because this place and the people connected with it gave me so much—more than words can really describe. The things that I do to support Dickinson are just little gestures compared to all that it has given me, but it’s important to give back in some way or another.
What do you like best about making music?
The ability it has to connect people. It gets people zoned in on the same wavelength, and that’s a powerful thing. I also like getting the chance to meet people after shows and meeting other musicians and hearing about their musical and life journeys.
I currently work at a job where I get to meet new people almost every day, and it’s something that I really, truly enjoy, because we all have unique stories to tell. We are just figuring out the best ways to tell them. My way is music, and I’m the only one who can tell my story and share my reality, and I’m grateful for all the tools and experiences Dickinson gave me to help me to tell my story.
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
Nothing! Life is great!
Published May 14, 2014