The Class of 2014 marches into the history books, and President Uscher confers honorary doctorates upon Tony Kushner and Deborah F. Rutter.
One hundred and fifty-nine students made the transition from Cornish undergraduates to Cornish alumni in Seattle’s McCaw Hall on Saturday, May 10, 2014. Amid applause, whoops, cheers, and impromptu gifts for department heads, 22 graduates received their bachelor of fine arts degrees in art, 15 in dance, 51 in design, 14 in performance production, and 34 in theater. Twenty-three students received bachelor of music degrees. At the ceremony, playwright Tony Kushner and top arts administrator Deborah F. Rutter were presented with honorary doctor of fine arts degrees, and alumnae Mary Lambert and Amy O’Neal received distinguished alumni awards.
Cornish President Nancy J. Uscher and Provost Moira Scott Payne welcomed the nearly 1,400 attendees with opening remarks. They were followed by the presentation of the awards for teaching excellence, which this year went to Lodi McClellan, professor of dance, Raymond Maxwell, professor of humanities and sciences, and Tom Baker, adjunct music instructor. Representing the Class of 2014, dance graduate Mariah Martens gave the student address, brilliantly capturing the roller coaster of emotions and experiences of college life in her funny and inspirational message to her classmates. Dancer, choreographer, and teacher Amy O’Neal gave heartfelt thanks for her Distinguished Alumni Award, and Distinguished Recent Alumni Award recipient Grammy nominated musician and composer Mary Lambert delivered an emotion-packed message about trial, hope, and success. Leading the audience through his sleep-depriving dilemma about whether or not to speak upon receiving his honorary degree, Tony Kushner showed the assembly why he is one of the premiere writers of drama in America. The world may know Kushner as a writer of serious, world-shaking works such as Angels in America and Homebody Kabul, but the soon-to-be Cornish graduates, their families and friends, along with faculty and staff, were treated to his rich sense of humor and adroit comic timing. Fellow honorary doctorate recipient and new head of the Kennedy Center, Deborah F. Rutter, spoke in perfect counterpoint to Kushner, making an elegant statement about her life working “behind” artists, and stressing the need to continue supporting them.
The commencement ceremony was punctuated with performances that beautifully showcased the performing arts work of the senior class: dance piece FA4102, flute trio The Spirit of Ink, and the choral arrangement of Here’s Where I Stand. (The art and design students got to show off their best work in the 2014 Art and Design BFA Exhibition, which opened to the public the night before.) Following the remarks from the honored guests and the student performances, President Uscher and Provost Scott Payne were joined by each department chair for the conferral of the degrees.
The graduating class, faculty, staff, and commencement audience left the auditorium of McCaw Hall as they had entered it: to the signature music of the Cornish Music Department gamelan ensemble, led by Professor Jarrad Powell. The post-commencement reception in the sunlit lobby of McCaw Hall was a happy cacophony as graduates clutching bright red degree presentation folders posed for pictures with their favorite faculty members, families, and friends.