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President Cecelia Fitzgibbon's Commencement Speech
Thank you, Art, and thanks to you and to Fran Graham, whose guidance and support helped make my first year as President a wonderful one. I also want to thank the members of the Boards of Managers and Trustees for their stewardship of this wonderful institution and to recognize our honored guest, Amy Sadao, who will be introduced later in the program.
Welcome to Moore College of Art & Design Commencement for the Class of 2013! Congratulations to all of the graduates and to all of the families and friends who join us today.
As graduates, you are crossing the threshold of the future, into a world that is more visual than ever. Here is what you are carrying over that doorstep: experience, knowledge that you will draw from to create; the capacity to keep learning; an artistic ability refined, and more intrinsically, you carry your confidence, your power and your network.
As intellectual, artist, teacher, curator, designer and entrepreneur you walk toward your next step supported by this institution and with a competitive advantage: you are expert in solving problems creatively and you have the capacity to accept criticism and to learn from it. You are entering a society that has a heightened embrace of what you do—of who you are. More than ever we are in a visual world where there is need for the ability to see and the capacity to create and you are poised to combine the savvy and self-confidence you gained at Moore to take your place in this world.
I have only one piece of advice (as I am sure you are getting weary of getting advice). Guard your reputation; it takes a lifetime to build and a minute to destroy. Build your credibility by doing what you say you will do. As a consequence, people that you work with will trust you, they will give you more interesting challenges, which in turn will grow your skills and further build your reputation. I wish you the best in your journey; you will always be part of the Moore community! Congratulations again to the Class of 2013!
Moore College of Art & Design is a private institution with a public purpose. It is governed by a Board of Managers & Trustees that ensure we are financially and educationally sound. I would like to acknowledge Art Block, Fran Graham, Andrea Baldeck, Marah Carpenter, Jack Donnelly, Monica Eboda, Penny Fox, Sis Grenald, Sara Lenton, Colin Oerton, Joan Stern and Keith Straw from the Boards of Managers & Trustees and to thank them for their stewardship.
It takes many people to keep the college going, process the records, generate scholarships, attend to the well-being of the students. I would like to acknowledge the hard working staff and to thank them.
The most important work of this college happens in the classroom and the studio. We are grateful to the faculty whose hard work, strong investment in the students and reputation as artists and scholars strengthens the institution. Will faculty stand and be recognized.
We would like to take this moment to especially recognize two faculty members who have achieved distinction. They are Lynne Horoschak as the awardee of the Bob and Penny Fox Distinguished Professorship and Dr. Jonathan Wallis as the winner of Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching. Will Lynne and Jonathon please stand to be recognized? Please refer to our celebration of their accomplishments in the commencement program. And, many thanks to Bob and Penny Fox for their generous support in honoring our faculty.
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Thank you President Fitzgibbon and members of the board. It’s such an honor to stand here today.
There are so many people who have helped us make it to this point, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge them. First, a huge thank you goes out to our families for their support and understanding. Those things meant a lot to us because although we wanted to spend time with you, we knew that our work needed everything we had for it to live up to its potential. Faculty and staff, thank you so much for all your dedication, feedback, and patience. You have pushed us past our own expectations, and have helped our dreams grow wilder than they ever were before. Now, I would like to address the class of 2013.
Are we really done? No more late nights in the studio, last minute critiques, or 8:30 classes? Can’t say I’ll miss some of those, but it is strange to think that these rhythms that have shaped our lives for so long will now be memories instead of reality.
I feel so honored and privileged to have worked alongside you in the past three years I’ve been here at Moore. When I first transferred, I had no idea how much this experience would change me; I just knew that I belonged here. I expected the rigorous critiques, endless projects, and the idea that my social life outside of Moore would have to go on a little hiatus. But what I didn’t expect was the fact that Moore isn’t just a school; it’s a community. A community full of strong, kind, creative, and brilliant women.
In many ways, Moore became a new home to me. A place of comfort, understanding, and support, but also a place that pushed me to aim higher and higher. Just when you’re satisfied with your new brand identity, painting, floor plan, essay, garment, or sculpture, your ideas are challenged by the critiques of your peers and teachers. And as a result, may you become a little frustrated, but thankfully we’ve learned how to quickly open our minds to new possibilities and push our work even further.
It’s an endless journey of struggle and triumph, but fortunately it’s one that we don’t walk alone. Moore girls are notorious for having each other’s backs, which is often contrary to typical situations at other schools. Time and time again, I have seen the women here go above and beyond the call of duty to help each other succeed; whether that meant giving a little extra feedback outside of class, showing someone how to use a new tool or technique, or just reassuring each other that our work is valid and has a place in this world. Those things are so important that I’m not sure how people survive art school without a big, crazy family like ours.
So I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts, ones that helped me get through the last few stressful weeks of thesis. I was actually reading my horoscope one morning, and whether you think they’re ludicrous or ridiculously accurate, it said that I should fearlessly embrace the future. You see, I’m a worrier so this is normally the opposite how I approach the future, but it really resonated in me. Instead of constantly worrying about how things are going to work out or trying to predict every possible situation before it happens, just remember who you are and embrace the world as it comes to your feet. You are amazing artists, incredible problem solvers, and such strong, capable women. You are the leaders of tomorrow, and can walk proudly and fearlessly into the future.
Thank you President Fitzgibbon. And thank you to the Board that selected me for this prize. To the faculty and staff, and to my friends and family who have always supported me, and helped me discover my potential, I can’t express how much I appreciate you. On behalf of my peers I extend a thank you to everyone here today. You’re sitting here because you had an important part of one of these graduating seniors journey. We wouldn’t be who we are without you.
When I was a sophomore, I joined Moore College of Art and Design’s Student Government. At the beginning of that year, we had a training and team-building day with the entire Student Leadership Board. We went to a ropes course, and most of the day was spent on low ropes courses practicing working together to get from one side to another. But at the end of the day we were all presented with a new, bigger challenge. It was called the “Leap of Faith,” and it was terrifying, especially for someone who isn’t a fan of heights. The Leap of Faith involved being harnessed and climbing the wooden ladder on what seemed like the tallest of trees, climbing onto a platform at the top, ignoring all your instincts, and jumping off the platform. The only thing keeping you from plummeting was a single rope, held onto by your peers on the ground. You had to put your trust in them to keep you safe. When I got to the top they yelled “don’t look down”, …so I looked down…and my knees buckled and my palms were sweating, and I was so scared, but I jumped.
I was scared of a lot of things back then. Scared of speaking up in class, of figuring out how SEPTA worked, of stepping outside my comfort zone. I was scared to be confident. But at Moore I was able to realize that fear is part of growth, and I made a conscious decision to take advantage of the unique leadership opportunities Moore offered; to help me to see what I was capable of. I’ve been involved in Emerging Leaders in the Arts, Student Government, and the Student Leadership Board, and have had training through programs such as LeaderShape Catalyst. In doing so, I’ve had the opportunity to be very introspective about how I can grow and be the most effective version of myself, and I have reflected a lot on my personal transformation while at Moore. Whether or not you reflect on this, you all have been a part of a similar journey of self-discovery. These past years have probably been the most transformative of your life.
And what I’ve learned is this- being a leader is about independence just as much as it is about being a part of a team. When you think about it, nothing in this world is really done independently- it’s a complex system of collaboration, of give and take, and we need to learn where our strengths fit into that. Leadership is about understanding yourself and the way you work, and understanding that everyone thinks, and acts, and gets their energy differently. We all fit into the team somewhere, and contribute in different ways. What makes someone a leader, is recognizing your strengths and figuring out how to optimize them. It’s not at all about being a perfect person or trying to eliminate your weaknesses. It’s about taking what you need from others, and in return giving what you can.
This award is the Happy Fernandez Women’s Leadership Prize. Those of us who have been at Moore for a while got to know Happy Fernandez. I remember her fondly- her purple power suits and her inability to ever really pronounce my last name correctly, but mostly I remember her passion for helping women to realize their potential. I strive to be the type of woman Happy would be proud of. We all should. We’re on our way. Every one of you is a leader because you have recognized what your passion is, and by attending Moore you’ve chosen to cultivate this passion. That’s not something to take for granted. You might have been told by someone at some point that a career in the arts is “frivolous” or a “waste of your intelligence”, but you know that its not, that it’s an essential piece of the complex system, You know that it’s where your strengths lie, and it’s how you are able to contribute and be the best version of yourself. You’ve worked with your peers to help each other grow, and have supported each other through artistic explorations. You’ve no doubt pulled all nighters in the studio and dedicated yourself to your work, but along the way you had help, and you’ve helped others. Don’t take for granted the network you’ve created at Moore, and don’t lose it.
Now as we’re about to graduate, we’re taking our own “Leap of Faith”. A HUGE Leap of Faith. It seems like we’ve been climbing and climbing and climbing that wooden ladder, We’re standing on the platform and we’re about to take the leap- and it’s scary. But I promise that you’re prepared, and I promise you that if you look in yourself you’ll find you’re already a leader. You don’t need to have everything figured out right now, you just need to keep fostering your passions, and keep doing things that scare you, and you will keep growing. Keep doing what engages your interests and employs your talents. Sometimes we want to stand there with our eyes closed, but I’m telling you to open them. I’m telling you to look down, to see how far you’ve come. You have permission to put your faith in yourself. Now jump. We won’t let you fall.
Thank you very much. President Fitzgibbon, members of the Board, members of the faculty and administration, and the Graduates: thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. What a tremendous day for you.
I’m honored to join in your ceremony, this passage, this day of celebration. It’s inspiring to see you all here with your families, friends, and teachers. Congratulations to you all.
I am here proudly because of all that Moore College of Art stands for. Like all of you I am here because I love art.
Your President asked me to speak to you about creating a life in the arts.
When I think of ways to connect the past twenty years to today — from the time when I sat where you’re sitting now, I realize I’ve been asking a version of the same question: “Where Do I Fit In?”
This defining question reoccurs because I have sought out unknown territory, the question continued for me because I took chances that I could make things work in places and roles where I often felt I did not belong.
My grandmother was a seamstress in post-war Los Angeles. She was talented enough to work her way up from the sweatshop floor to become the company’s pattern maker. She taught me in many ways and these early lessons in construction and fashion formed me. Perhaps it began there: a love of the visual, the pleasure of color and texture, THE KNOWLEDGE THAT WITH SKILL WE CAN MAKE WHAT WE IMAGINE.
Seeking knowledge and the visual are very personal to me: My mother was a public school teacher and my father was an optometrist. They valued family and service to a community, they valued hard work and humility. Above all they valued dignity.
My father’s guiding words to me were simple: “Its not about the money Amy. Do what you love.”
While I never took art classes I became friends with artists who told me art school was a place to learn how to ask questions of yourself. And to find ways to continue a life of curiosity: intellectually, creatively. That’s what I submitted when I applied to Cooper Union – and suggested that I belonged there not only for my interest in problem-solving, but Problem-Posing and the questions that I might ask.
While at Cooper, I made some bad art. I had paintings that literally slid off the canvas overnight. More importantly, over time I discovered I didn’t want to have a studio practice or to be THE artist. Instead I found my passion resided in the community of artists and writers.
FOR ME IT WASN’T ABOUT THE ACT OF MAKING THINGS, BUT INSTEAD OF MAKING THINGS HAPPEN.
I remember the moment –leaving my studio late one evening to see my friend’s developing performance. We discussed the work. That night I sketched out a space for her audience and her performance. She said it was the kind of collaboration that she needed. So this is where I came to fit in Art School? This was a realization on my part – that I was interested in helping artists produce their works – and finding ways to connect audiences to those experiences.
In graduate school in Race Theory at UC Berkeley I had a similar insight – I gravitated to the community of scholars and certain burning questions about race and justice, but again over time I realized that becoming a professor was not the right path for me. Still, I was following my head and heart.
In between I worked many forgettable jobs, and lived in many very tiny apartments. What kept me going was the nightly work I took on with friends: creating art journals; curating exhibitions (not all that were ever realized); studio visits and reading groups. We did this together. We were happy to live modestly and to keep our intellectual lives flourishing.
Finally, I landed an opportunity to put all these projects together. And the biggest challenge of my life. It was my first directorship. At Visual AIDS I constantly asked where the organization fit into the larger Art World. And where our work met up with that of colleagues in AIDS activism and other service groups devoted to People Living with AIDS. It was not clear.
When I became the Director of Visual AIDS the organization had an identify crisis. It had lost its roots. I wanted to reconnect with the art world — and reconnect we did. The first people to help were artists and multigenerational. I never worked harder. There were long stretches of time when the work felt insurmountable. Even as we began to turn the organization around I always knew how much more there was to do. But the point is we were doing it. The bonds between my board and my colleagues created a new kind of work place: a culture of love and survival. It was a unique place that I will never forget –the kind of place I hope you all have opportunity to experience and sustain in your future careers.
Today as I lead the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, I question how the museum can create meaning in a larger picture. I ask how I can transform institutions to engage The Civic as well as The Creative. I ask how what I do fits into my ideas for a better city, and for the larger culture.
AND TODAY I ASK MYSELF HOW DOES MY STORY CONNECT TO YOU? THERE ARE AT LEAST THREE WAYS:
FIRST OF ALL: You have trained as artists and this knowledge will follow you no matter what you do. You have developed a highly valuable resource: the imagination and its possibilities.
SECOND: The problem of failure. One of the hardest things you will have to do is to rethink your path in the face of discouragement. These rejections are each crossroads at which to hone your next move. Set backs teach us more about ourselves, and help us understand our work more deeply and truly. While its painful and disorienting to confront failure, WE ALL MUST REMEMBER THAT ULTIMATELY THE ONLY FAILURE IS THE FAILURE OF THE IMAGINATION. WE KNOW THIS. WE MUST NEVER FORGET IT.
You will be challenged to find a way to move forward. It has been my experience that often the path that opens up is nothing I thought was going to happen.
Be willing to jump in, when the opportunities present themselves. We’re often told we need to “learn to say no,” to guard our time and our resources: but I challenge you – as you embark on discovering what how you will impact your world, how you will shape our understanding, I challenge you to say YES. Say Yes to opportunities, to requests to participate, to offer freely your labor and your ideas.
THIRD, and this is connected: As you make your life and feed your art – find friends you respect and admire and love. And work together to create your own projects. Support one another’s work. REMEMBER THAT A SMALL GROUP OF FRIENDS CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
You have already completed something. We stand today to toast your achievements and I know you have already applied so much of what I am discussing in order to graduate from Moore today.
LET US SAVOR THIS MOMENT RIGHT NOW. BE PROUD OF YOUR WORK. BE PROUD OF YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS AS STUDENTS AND ARTISTS AND WOMEN AND AN EMERGING GENERATION OF CREATIVE AND PASSIONATE LEADERS.
Of course, there's no one-size-fits-all key, but everyone can find a place (and often several along the way) that's right for them. Maybe its not a place you could not have predicted, but eventually we find the right place knowing it because it clicks with a deeper sense of who you are.
My greater message to you is really another question – WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
Do you want to create and share ideas through art? Do you think art should be a public offering available for all? What will you do to encourage intellectual inquiry through demanding, challenging, unknown works? What is your passion? What sets you on fire?
In finding my place I learned a few things:
Be your own audience. Never wait for the opportunity to make something new. It doesn’t have to be permanent. Support and encourage others’ projects.
Remember to HAVE FUN. REMEMBER WHY YOU ARE DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING, and yes ENJOY IT. Embrace the pleasure of good company, of visuality, of sublime experiences, of intellectual challenges; Embrace the enjoyment of good work, of hard work, of making things and making change.
Because in the end, OUR WORK GOES BEYOND US. The privilege and the importance of WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE ULTIMATELY MAKE should be in the service of making the world more just. Racial, gender, class inequity continue. How do we answer to a history of exclusion? How do we keep expectations high for art and culture? How do wrest our experience with art away from ego, individual glory, or gain?
You don’t have the answers now, so be patient and observe, but also remain determined.
I believe you will find these answers. I believe you will put those ideas into practice.
I look forward to continuing in your presence, your company, in your world.
This is your time. I wish you strength. I wish you joy.
THANK YOU AND CONGRATULATIONS.
The word commencement means “a beginning”. So while we are here today to celebrate and recognize your many accomplishments and achievements over the past 4 years, we are here as well to mark the beginning of your creative life as an artist/a designer/educator/historian/curator. I know I speak for the entire Moore community of faculty and staff in saying that it has been our privilege and pleasure to get to know you and to teach you these past years.
Our goal was to teach you how to think critically, respond honestly and create passionately. We have insisted that you learn the importance of observation, curiosity and perseverance. We have rejoiced in watching you become who you are today. We hope we have taught you to embrace the blank canvas, to learn from your mistakes, to push yourself a little harder and to find your truth in what you write, what you design, what you make.
I want to share a poem with you today called “ Final Notations” by Adrienne Rich. This poem for some, may seem to be rather somber for such as celebratory moment but it caught my eye when I was thumbing through the book The Open Door 100 Poems-100 Years of Poetry Magazine. I started thinking about how each of your thesis projects has become your Final Notations at Moore. And then in my first reading of the poem lines like “it will take little time, it will be short” made me realize that it seemed like just yesterday we were greeting you as new students and now you are going away into the next chapter of your creative journey. This is how it should be and this, your next beginning, is what we are here to celebrate.
it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple
it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heartit will not be long,
it will occupy your thought as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple
You are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives
it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will
These past 4 (very short) years you have proven to us that you could do anything you wanted to do. You made it look simple even when it was not.
As you continue on your creative journey, know that you will always have pieces of our lives and our time together with you. You will always have what you have learned from these faculty (pause and gesture), you will always have what you have learned from your peers and from yourself.
When you run into a problem or obstacle, remember to use the ways of seeing, critical thinking and problem solving that you have successfully applied to so many class assignments, semester long projects and to your own self-directed thesis work while you were here at Moore, remember what you can accomplish, when you create with all your heart, your mind, your will.
Class of 2013,
Candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts will please rise.
Madame President, in the judgment of the faculty of Moore College of Art & Design, the seniors standing have met all the requirements for the baccalaureate degree.
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