On Thursday, May 14, SVA held its 40th formal commencement ceremony at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students celebrated the processional with friends and family. Both ceremonies were live-streamed on sva.edu, and can be viewed in high- and low-resolution videos here.
Chosen to speak on behalf of the undergraduate and graduate classes of 2015 and introduced by Provost Jeff Nesin were Rory Pfotenhauer (BFA Film and Video) and Maria Cecilia Pugliese (MFA Computer Art), respectively. Speaking to his fellow graduates, Pfotenhauer stressed that there is no single definition of success, and emphasized the diverse and unpredictable paths that shape our lives.
Pugliese made a similar point when she remarked in her speech: “By now, we know that life is not a straight line.” A Fulbright Scholar from Italy by way of Argentina, Pugliese studied engineering before she became interested in computer art, and holds separate Master’s degrees in animation as well as cognitive systems and interactive media. She invited her fellow graduates to always be curious and rebel against conformity, but cautioned against actions and art that have “form without content.”
President David Rhodes followed and spoke candidly about the responsibilities of artists as citizens, namely the importance of being politically active. In his address, Rhodes cited recent statistics highlighting the inadequacies of standardized testing in New York that proved “the test is wrong, not the students. Not the teachers.” In his criticism, Rhodes noted the test’s disproportionate focus on math and English as the only metrics of intellectual success before inquiring of the audience: “Think about what your lives would be like without the arts.”
This year’s keynote speaker and honorary degree recipient was renowned opera and stage director Peter Sellars, who, as SVA Board of Directors member Janet Knox described in her introduction, has dedicated his career “to disproving the proposition that when politics comes through the door, art flies out the window.” His many awards and distinctions include a MacArthur Fellowship, the Erasmus Prize, the Polar Music Prize, the Sundance Institute Risk-Takers Award and the Gish Prize.
In his speech, Sellars reminded the graduating students of the importance of their role as artists and their obligation to society. “We are artists,” remarked Sellars, “We reach beyond change and we go to the next step, which is transformation. We take something and work with it and the experience allows something to flower into a state of fulfillment that no one could have seen, but needed to be there.” Sellars called upon the new class of artists to summon their crafts so that we may learn more about our fellow man and empathize rather than discriminate: “What is required are serious portraitists—people who know how to look into someone’s eyes and see a life. Not only see a person’s past but see their future. In a time of massive dehumanization of nine tenths of the planet, this is a time for humanities to step forward.”
Congratulations to the SVA class of 2015!