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Commencement 2016 Welcome: Be Thoroughly Outrageous

In her welcome to the graduating Class of 2016, Dr. Nancy J. Uscher, President of Cornish College of the Arts, exorted them to not only be ready for what comes next, but to meet it head on, to be thoroughly outrageous in their approach to the arts and to life.

Delivered May 14, 2016
Commencement 2016 Welcome by President Nancy J Uscher, PhD.

This is a momentous day for our graduating class and their friends and family! Cornish College of the Arts welcomes all of you here today. Our college Trustees, faculty, staff and administration are with us to celebrate with you and your loved ones. You have already met our Chair of the Board, Dr. Linda Brown. Linda, thank you for all that you and the Trustees do for Cornish. On stage are also the leaders of the college – including Cabinet and Chairs – thank you, dear colleagues, for your service to our community. The Faculty have mentored our graduates through an intense learning and growth process. Let’s thank the Faculty for their deep and abiding commitment to the students. Graduates, we well know that these relationships with your mentors are life-long, as we hope will be your relationship with Cornish College of the Arts.

Part of the ritual of graduation is to honor important artists who share our Cornish values and who inspire us with their stories and their lives.

Clarence Acox Jr., Pete Docter, Pae White, Emily Chisholm, and Catherine Harris-White  –  we are thrilled to have you all with us today! The inventiveness and imagination in your work has been stunning, powerful and influential.  Each of you – our Honorary Doctorate degree recipients and our Distinguished Alumni – has had tremendous impact in advancing knowledge and encouraging young artists.

The class of 2016 is unusually gifted with the capacity to work extremely hard. Graduates, you have created art practices of profound resonance in addressing some of the most challenging aspects of contemporary life.

•Leah Webster wrote the musical YOU: and Other Things That Shouldn’t Matter But Do, in which she explored critical 21st century identity issues of college students.
•Maya Burton, Lexi Chipman, Rafael Molina and Sherif Amin -- all members of the class of 2016 --created Raisins in a Glass of Milk, so beautifully performed by our students, which dealt with issues of race and the human experience.
•Diego Suarez – in your work Like a Surgeon, you used collage to re-imagine conceptions of identity, body and image itself, to underscore the visceral beauty of fracturing.
•Through photography installation that included melting ice, Vanessa Alcaraz focused on how climate change is affecting the Polar regions of the planet.
•Sculptor, photographer, videographer, multi-media artist, Janice Kwan Ngan  explored the challenges inherent to identifying as a person navigating the dichotomous nature of bi-cultural perspective.
•Through figurative painting, Ana Dueñas recognized the powerful Latina women in her life.
•Vanessa Margarita Blea embraced motion design with a focus on the empowerment of girls and women.
•Bryanna Jones’s film Engage deals with the importance of relationships within the context of a fully engaged life.
Rise by Erik Hall, in the mixed reality HoloLens exhibition, aims to find solutions for people living in the impoverished coastal slums of Bangladesh, in the face of almost constant flooding.
•Designer Elizabeth Holmes created ‘Dala Apparel,’ which deals with environmental and sustainability issues in fashion.
•Juju Kasangi through her interdisciplinary approach to Dance and Art, explored the human experience.
•Amelia Coulter, trombonist, who you will be hearing play today, has courageously pushed boundaries with her music to confront gender identity and liberation politics.
•And finally Performance Production senior, Lauren Williams, recently back from her semester-abroad in Glasgow, Scotland, will be at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and then the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in these next months, building scenery and breaking the glass ceiling for this aspect of her profession.

These projects are but a small representation of the many meaningful endeavors I have seen this year and that are, in fact, a testament to a new intensely vital generation of thought leaders for the 21st century. My long-standing belief is that art can change the world, and you, graduates, have deepened my sense of the momentum and urgency with which you are taking your roles in society.  The most important learning I have taken away from your collective work is that possibility is abundant, and that openness to possibility, ignited by imagination, creates original works that defy boundaries.  Adam Grant says in his new book about original thinking that, "It's not just that a certain kind of original person seeks out exposure to the arts. The arts also serve in turn as a powerful source of creative insight."

A recent example of the arts as a catalyst for creative insight is in the form of an improbable rap musical based on the life of an immigrant from the West Indies who went on to become the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury.  Who knew that this idea could even work, let alone become a successful Pulitzer prize-winning musical that has captured such interest across generations?! But Hamilton is just that – an unlikely idea born of Lin Manuel Miranda’s imagination. Graduates – using this example as context, continue to think about the unlikely, the kooky, the edgy, even the bizarrely different.  Do not be distracted by skeptics who cannot yet see what you see! That seeing what others do not is, in fact, the essence of being an artist.  I am in awe of the contributions the class of 2016 is destined to make year after year, creation after creation, dream after dream. Without a doubt there will be struggles and bumps in the road. 

Remember to RESPECT the importance of all that does not go your way – because it is only a matter of time when it will be YOUR time, with a success under your belt, followed by the next obstacle, the next idea, the next epiphany, the next disappointment, the next moment of pride. And so it goes in the continuum of life.

So when poet Mary Oliver asks in her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one, wild and precious life?…” My answer is this,  ‘…just about anything you want to do!’

Discover what has not been discovered before! Think of ways to do the impossible!

Be thoroughly outrageous!

Remember to celebrate, throughout your lives, the freshness and adventure of our ever-changing world!

The noted educational leader, John Dewey, who had a direct influence on the philosophy of the early Cornish School, said, “Education is not preparation for life – education is life.”  Therefore, Graduates, I will not say good luck for the future, because the future is NOW, and you are already on exciting pathways which you began years ago at Cornish. So pause here briefly today to accept your College’s recognition and congratulations – then go out and continue your journeys as remarkable artists-citizens. We are so proud!

Thank you very much!