The Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2011 was held on Saturday, May 14, 2011 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington. 150 graduates participated in the ceremonial conferral of the Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees, in front of more than 1100 audience members.
Listen to Mark Morris’ commencement address.
Honorary degrees were awarded to retiring faculty member and renowned musician Professor Julian Priester, artist Gary Hill and choreographer and dancer Mark Morris, who also delivered the commencement address. Design graduate Koji Minami was the 2011 student speaker.
The audience was treated by a surprise gamelan performance with retiring Cornish President Sergei P. Tschernisch and the Cornish Gamelan Ensemble, under the direction of Jarrad Powell.
By Mark Morris
Thank you Sergei and thank you everybody. I thought I had large print until I saw your speech, boy you were smart. Dear class of twenty-eleven, congratulations—hooray for you—you did it.
Also, I imagine some of you are hungover, and—each of you thinks you’re the only person yawning but it’s actually 200 people at the same time. You look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Congratulations to Mr. Hill and to Mr. Priester, and super extra deep thanks to Mr. Tschernisch. I’m very sorry I’m just getting to know you and you’re jumping ship already so thank you very much Sergei. I’ve been to a few of these commencements and just like your own mother I have been softly weeping for hours. But unlike your mother I’m not as delighted that you’re moving back home immediately this afternoon. And now, oh wait a minute I forgot something, um, I’m about to start my… I haven’t even started yet everybody, so it’s a good time to go to the bathroom if you need to. So, knock knock (audience: “who’s there?”) Gamelan (audience: “Gamelan who?”) sings: gamelan and listen to the lullaby of Broadway the hip hooray and ballyhoo etc…(applause) I made that up. Alright here goes my speech… please feel free to substitute your own specialty act wherever I use the terms “dance” or “choreography.”
Part One: Seattle and Memory Lane.
I did not go to Cornish or any other sort of college or university. I studied at a dancing school run by an incredible woman named Verla Flowers. I occasionally took ballet class from this supremely elegant and patient Karen Irvin in the beautiful old Cornish building, whatever you call it—I call it Cornish. At Cornish I met the wonderful composer Allen Hovhaness and the secretly ubiquitous soprano, the great Marni Nixon. Google her everybody—but not right now. I’ve known and admired Kitty Daniels for a very long time. Before Cornish even. That’s how long that is, and I salute her. I guest taught and occasionally choreographed for the dance division and sometimes filled in for a friend of mine, a pianist and accompanist Harriet Cavalli. She taught a class called, insultingly, “Music for Dancers,” or as I always referred to it “Baseball for Fat Sissies.” I once made up a short dance for my friend Penny Hutchinson to audition for Julliard, and the audition was held at Cornish and it was a success. She got in. And I recall now that it was to the ”Overture to the Fantasticks.” Which is a great piece of music, ok anyway, much much later, I became friends with the darling Merce Cunningham and especially very close with Lou Harrison, who famously said something like “music is a song and a dance.” I agree. I used to go to Scandinavian dances and later two-stepping at what was then called the Timberline, which is now your theater. It was the most fabulous queer bar in town, and notably they had a team of clog dancers named “A Fistful of Crinoline.” There’s that today.
Part two, you have no idea how many parts there are, that’s the best part about this…
Part Two: Fame and Bragging.
I’ve had a dance company for thirty years; I’ve been adored and detested. My work is taken seriously and dismissed. I had early success, then a back lash, and then a back lash of the back lash. I have a beautiful purpose-built building in Fort Green Brooklyn that’s just called “The Mark Morris Dance Center,” although my very good friend Peter Sellars, who sadly was honored years before I was, here at Cornish, he calls the building, he calls the building, um, “The International Headquarters for Mark Morris Related Studies.” And it is the home of my company and a burgeoning dance school. People refer to my building as Mark Morris as in “Oh God I have to go rehearse at Mark Morris.” Due to sloppy typing I was once listed in a program as “Nardge Nerris.” On tour somewhere I was greeted with “you must be Mark Morris itself.” All of this is very satisfying and puzzling.
Part Three: Criticism and Vitriol.
I read criticism all the time—art, literature, architecture. Most people who say they never read reviews are lying. For some reason quite a few dance writers lately have pronounced themselves experts in composition, giving unsolicited advice to choreographers. Apparently no one is allowed to use the music of Mozart or Bach, because the dead George Balanchine once said that it was difficult. Often reviewers feel compelled to offer suggestions as to how a dance piece might be more pleasing to them: change the ending, change the lighting, change the costumes, change all of the choreography, and most important, change what the dancers look like. That particularly cynical approach generally leads to reviewing the desired and wholly imaginary show as opposed to the actual empirical one. And of course a choreographer may work on a dance for a year only to have it roundly trashed after just one viewing. Dance is marginal enough, help it thrive, and it’s very nice when something you do encourages repeat visits. Don’t assume just because nobody likes your work that it is too sophisticated for them… it might just be bad. And of course if being successful is the same as selling out—then I’m for sale completely.
Part—where am I, three? (audience: “four”) Four, oh ok, thanks.
Part Four: Art and Life.
Some years ago, having just returned from Bali and brutally jet-lagged, I saw a TV show about Bali. An old Balinese man said my favorite thing ever, “Without art people would not be normal.” Of course I think that dancing is the most interesting and important thing in the world, I have to—it’s my only skill. I also understand that it is of no importance and no interest to most people. Dancing vanishes as it happens like food does. I tell people who don’t like what they’re watching to just wait a little—it’s just a dance and it will be over soon—like a root canal. Dancers themselves are kind and intuitive and extremely disciplined and serious and a little narcissistic. “Who me?”, all the dancers are like “that’s what you think.” You’re projecting, ok um. Dancing is by its nature esoteric but you don’t have to rub it in. There are very few jobs for dancers and even fewer for choreographers. All of we big shot choreographers know each other, which is kind of fabulous and a little bit dangerous. It is important to let people in on the secret of what you do without being dismissive or smug. To get a dance one need only watch and listen. And I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you want to be a choreographer, you will be required to make up dances.
And now for the last part of my speech, which is number five, I guess—right its number five? This is called “Unsolicited Advice.”
- Know how to change a tire. There’s more please, hold your applause til the end.
- Know how to change a tire.
- Learn another language.
- Cook your own food.
- Don’t presume that all of world history led inexorably to your birth.
- No one besides you is interested in your dreams or in your journal.
- Expression is great, but self-expression is a dead end.
- Everyone feels just as deeply as you do.
- The great idea you had late at night when you were high isn’t necessarily that bad the next day, but it probably is.
- Procrastination is a very valuable technique; you’ll figure that out eventually. Be judgmental, the good is better than the bad.
- Criticism is important—unless it’s in the newspaper.
- Have sex, but have safe sex. Not right now.
- Don’t get that tattoo.
- Read books, if you don’t like what you’re reading, stop—you won’t get into trouble.
- Listen to music, especially for instruments other than your own.
- Don’t kill anybody.
- Spend time alone but not all the time.
- Just because you’re tired doesn’t mean you did a good job, right ladies? That was meant to insult men, but it might have backfired.
- At hotels always tip housekeeping.
- Art is not instead of something, it is something.
- The drive to fill time and fill in space are the basis of both art and religion, something to do while you’re still alive.
- Consider the difference between the priceless and the worthless.
- Art is not for everyone it is for every one.
“The End is the Beginning” by Koji Minami, DE ‘11
The very first project that design majors are challenged with is a dot project. You’re given a square and three dots. You’re then given a few words, mostly abstract concepts like “happiness, sadness, excitement,” etc., and you’re to represent them by arranging the dots within the square in an appropriate configuration. Some of the design students here might remember this project…, but I don’t.
That’s because I actually transferred into Cornish just last year, so I didn’t personally go through some of these kinds of freshman rites of passage. The first time I came to Cornish I was just visiting a friend, but I was immediately drawn to the student work hanging in the halls. It was very impressive, and not just in comparison to my own student work, but for its own merits. I realized that I wanted to be surrounded by highly self–motivated people in an environment that inspires growth and development, so I immediately began the process of enrolling.
I’ve now been attending Cornish since the fall semester of 2009 and it’s been an incredible experience. This school really has a definite sense of community. Students, faculty, and administrators are all crucial parts that contribute to create an environment that encourages personal growth. The challenge level has been both demanding and highly rewarding, and for me personally, these last two years have been a breakthrough period. I owe this progress completely to the friends and faculty who have constantly pushed me to challenge myself. With their encouragement I’ve found that you can always do a little bit more than what you think is your absolute maximum capacity.
When I began studying design, I suddenly found myself in highly subjective territory. Teachers don’t simply promulgate answers and truths for students to diligently soak up. Rather, they equip students with the tools to find their own answers and truths. Visual communication students must learn the highly fluid contextual nature of all communication and realize that to every problem there are an infinite number of answers, some of which are more “right” than others. Which is also true of life itself. We all have to figure out what our right. In design or in any creative field and in life itself, this process of self-actualization is complex and continual. It’s a constantly shifting triadic relationship between experience, expectations and goals which affects and shapes all of us in different ways. Over the last 4 years (or 2 in my case) we’ve all developed different beliefs and goals; some of us are still finding those answers and truths.
Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily have to be a scary thing though. In the best cases it can be an unexpected intellectual and creative catalyst that can indicate that a person is being pushed beyond his or her comfort zone and towards new discovery. We entered the dot project without any knowledge of where it would lead; we’ve come all the way from that starting point to a new starting point. At least part of the excitement of this new beginning lies in the indefinite nature of the unknown. It might be slightly terrifying; but it’s also a breathtakingly exciting divergence point of infinite possibilities. I’d like to issue a collective challenge to all of us, myself included. Each individual path from here will be different, and as we continue to develop in our own ways let’s continue to seek out what is right for each of us, then to act on it.