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Spirits High at Commencement 2012

06/05/2012

The rainy day last Saturday, June 2, couldn’t dampen the spirits of the 645 graduates who celebrated together with family members and friends at RISD’s 2012 Commencement ceremony. After 197 graduate students and their guests gathered for a hooding ceremony in the morning, the festively festooned hall in the Rhode Island Convention Center swelled with a crowd of several thousand well-wishers ready to cheer on the 448 bachelor’s degree recipients.

 Commencement Monsterhead

Speakers at the afternoon ceremony urged graduates to be generous in sharing the creative thinking and energy they absorbed at RISD with a world desperately in need of their input. But each speaker approached the value of what RISD alumni bring to the world in a slightly different way.

In his opening remarks, President John Maeda reminded graduates that RISD is really all about learning to think with your head, hands and heart – a notion Professor Marshall Ganz of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government reinforced for him at a workshop this year. The president echoed Ganz in noting that “knowing with the heart” – the ability to connect emotionally – is what actually inspires people to take action. He encouraged RISD’s newest alumni to keep the studio spirit of thinking, making and doing alive as they go out into the world and help “turn art from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have.”

“The best argument for what an art and design degree can do is what you will do with it,” Maeda said. “We began here at RISD together,” the president noted in a reference to arriving at RISD in 2008 at the same time as most graduating seniors did. “And together we are showing the world the immense power of art and design, and what can happen when you unite head, hands and heart.”

RISD’s newly elected Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter reinforced Maeda’s message by urging graduates to continue to expand the ways the arts can be employed to improve the world. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., on the intrinsic value of self-worth and the importance of understanding “that you count” – that your own “somebodiness” matters and “your life has ultimate significance.” Speaking to graduates on behalf of all RISD trustees, he concluded, “I am in awe of you – both for what you’ve accomplished so far and for what is yet to come.”

RISD’s newly appointed Provost Rosanne Somerson 76 ID affirmed that this year’s RISD graduates “are what the world needs,” a thought that Dylan Greif MFA 12 GD, speaking on behalf of graduate students, fully embraced. “I’m taking RISD with me,” he proclaimed after explaining everything the creative community experience has meant to him in the course of his three years of graduate studies. Being at RISD “spiked my brain power by 600% and my making by 1,000%,” he told the provost.

Commencement '12 students

Senior class speaker Marianna Williams 12 PT offered an upbeat talk “made possible, in part, by post-modernism,” as she put it. She referenced artist John Baldessari’s lame advice about what to paint to make money, advised fellow graduates not to let computers do their thinking for them, shifted into a bike-racing simile at one point and noted, “Your impact in life is more about how you are as you work than about who you claim to be.”

Honorary degrees were presented to author and activist Rebecca Solnit, renowned Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli and 2012 Pritzker Prize-winning architect Wang Shu, who also delivered the Commencement Address. As a leading architect in a country that has undergone massive change in the last quarter century, Shu spoke about the commercialization of design in China and the disbelief among his countrymen that he had actually earned international recognition for his work in the form of this year’s Pritzker Prize. He spoke about his own approach to architecture and the loss of tradition and values in his country, noting that in his mind bigger is not better, especially when it comes to the built environment. “Small things have big value,” he noted.

Among the other awards presented at Commencement, the Alumni Association selected information graphics leader Nicholas Felton 99 GD for its Business of Design Award, while the Center for Student Involvement presented the Mendelson Award for Community Service to a beaming Max Frieder 12 PT, who sported a relatively conservative tie as a counterpoint to the elaborate riot of materials he wore draped over his head. The Herbert and Claiborne Pell Award for excellence in art history went to Shu Min Lim 12 GD and the John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to two highly deserving individuals: Professor Damian White and adjunct faculty member Anne West.  

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tags: alumni, graduate, students

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Graduates let loose at the close of RISD's colorful outdoor Commencement.