SVA held its 37th formal commencement exercises at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, May 10, 2012. The 1,100 undergraduate and graduate degree candidates were joined by family, friends and faculty as they received BFA, MAT, MFA and MPS degrees in a ceremony marked by thought-provoking and inspiring speeches.
The undergraduate address was delivered by Joe Hollier (BFA 2012 Graphic Design) who encouraged his fellow graduates to stay mindful of what they want to accomplish, saying, “What I ask of each of you today is before getting into the habit of living, the systemic routine that is our adult life for the next who knows how many years until we die, is to really think about what you want out of it—what would you like to be waking up to do every day for the rest of your life.” Hollier was followed by Amani Willett (MFA 2012 Photography, Video and Related Media), whose graduate address touched upon the paths that led the candidates to this day and the future opportunities and responsibilities that await them. Willett remarked, “We have gladly set out on a journey that will in part be defined by uncertainty, questions and ambiguity. For we understand that when we take chances and bravely share our convictions honestly and without fear, we will be fulfilled.”
Following the student addresses, SVA President David Rhodes took the podium to deliver a timely speech that focused on the challenges facing the nation’s educational system and the confluence of trends responsible for its current state, including the rise in retirement of experienced teachers, the recent emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and the elimination of teaching positions following the economic recession. President Rhodes concluded with a direct address to the graduates, saying “As you take time to think about the teachers who have helped you reach this point in your life, those who have inspired, encouraged, supported and prepared you for the challenges and work ahead, in the spirit of your appreciation, become engaged in the process of genuine educational reform because absent substantial change, it will be your children who will be subjected to this dysfunctional educational system.”
Acclaimed multimedia artist Laurie Anderson then took to the stage to give the commencement address to the class of 2012 (watch video above). In a speech that was at turns thoughtful and lighthearted, she interwove stories from her own career beginnings, including some of the lessons she learned while studying at SVA with Sol Lewitt, shared anecdotes from her experience as NASA’s first artist-in-residence and imparted advice for the 2012 graduates, encouraging them to relish the freedom inherent in being an artist. She explained, “The reason I’m an artist is that it’s one of the few things that you can do in this world in which you are totally free—absolutely no one tells you what you can do and what you can’t do.” Anderson ended her address with a treat for the audience—she played a tune using a pillow speaker as a make-shift harmonica—and afterward accepted an honorary degree presented by SVA Board Member Janet Knox.
Photos by Joe Sinnott.