Commencement 2017 Student Address
by: Blake Huddleston, Performance Production '17
Near the end of Fall semester of 2016, the day after the election, I walked into my Humanities and Sciences class and I could see how I felt reflected in my classmates. We were lost and dejected. The very first thing my professor said to us as we all sat down was: “Hi. I’m really glad you’re all here today.” As a class we were all collectively struggling and scared and that sentence was, for me at least, like a shimmer of normalcy in what had been a hard 2016. Of course this one statement didn’t fix everything, but it was something to hold onto. My professor is glad I’m here today.
I don’t think it’s a secret that this year has been rough on people. Rough on us, on this class of graduates. No matter who you are or what you believe in, this past year probably hasn’t been kind to you one way or the other. But in a time of national uncertainty, instead of focusing on the ways that the world tried to beat you down this year, right now I want you to focus on the ways that you looked the world right back in the face and said: I will not be stopped.
Even when you were looking at your pathetic bank account balance while eating ramen and crying you did not stop. Even when you were dragging your exhausted body back from a twelve hour tech day. Even when the thought of actually getting your final BFA project installed seemed literally impossible. Even when you skipped class or you put off homework. When you went to a show with your friends that none of you could really afford. When you chose to take a bath instead of studying. Or you tried to actually get nine hours of sleep. In moments like those you chose yourself over anything else. Including giving in to a rough year.
But, even when I was sharing these struggles with you I didn’t feel like I could claim the identity of “struggling artist.” For the past four years it has been hard for me to connect the word artist to myself. As a Stage Manager my job is more paperwork, scheduling, and making sure a group of 16 adults sign there name on a piece of paper everyday (without stealing my pencil). Less expressive than movements, digital renderings, or layered compositions. But, I was witness to artistry in all of you every day. As I have grown as a student and a leader during my college career I have seen you and your art grow. I have seen, first hand, my peers cultivate their talent and critical eye. And so, I know that to grow as an artist is to flourish as a person.
All of my best friends at this college have spent countless hours honing and perfecting their craft while at the same time growing into people that I love and respect even more than when I first met them. That tenacity and fortitude that I have seen across the whole student body, in all of the majors, goes hand in hand with your personal growth. I’ve seen my peers that I’ve known and worked with become better people as their work has matured. And, as my own work has matured, I have also become a better person. Seeing this same evolution in myself has connected me to the identity “the artist” more than I ever thought I would. So, I want to thank you for showing me that.
In such a time of divide and hardship, strength and artistry are more important than ever. It is important for you, and for us, to keep honing and allowing what we do to shape who we are and vise-versa. You’ve proven that you couldn’t be stopped during these grueling and hard and rewarding four years. Continue to prove that to yourself.
Oh, and hi. I’m really glad you’re all here today.