Provocative Filmmaker John Waters to Deliver Keynote Address at Rhode Island School of Design’s 2015 Commencement

On Saturday, May 30 at 10:30AM, 500 undergraduate and 190 graduate students from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) will receive their diplomas at RISD’s 2015 Commencement. The ceremony will take place at the Rhode Island Convention Center in downtown Providence, where the annual RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition will also be on view.

This year RISD will present five outstanding cultural leaders with honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees. Influential filmmaker and author John Waters is accepting his first honorary degree and will also deliver the Commencement keynote address. Author and New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik and musicians Chris Frantz (RISD ’74 Painting), Martina Weymouth (RISD ’74 Painting) and Jerry Harrison, all former members of the breakthrough band Talking Heads, will accept honorary degrees at the ceremony as well. In addition, painter Miriam Beerman (RISD ’45 Painting) is being honored with the 2015 Alumni Award for Artistic Achievement.

John Waters, recognized as one of the most outrageous filmmakers in America, has written and directed 16 movies, several starring the actor Divine. In 2014 the Film Society of Lincoln Center honored him with a 10-day retrospective entitled Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?, screening such all-time favorites as Pink Flamingos(1972), Polyester (1981), Hairspray (1988), Cry-Baby (1990), Serial Mom (1991) and A Dirty Shame (2004), among others. Waters has published a number of books and screenplays, including the New York Times bestsellers Carsick(2014) and Role Models (2010), and has shown his photographs and sculptures in galleries throughout the world. A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Waters is a former member of the board of The Andy Warhol Foundation and currently serves on the boards for both the Maryland Film Festival and the Provincetown International Film Festival.

Adam Gopnik, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1986, has contributed fiction, humor, book reviews and profiles to the magazine, earning the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism three times. He served as The New Yorker’s art critic from 1987–95 before moving to Paris for five years and writing the magazine’s Paris Journal. Those essays form the basis of his well-received first book, Paris to the Moon (2000), which has been followed by a series of others, including the “spectacularly fine children’s novel” The King in the Window (2005). In addition to his prolific writing, Gopnik is a much-admired speaker. Among his top honors are the Canadian National Magazine Gold Medal for arts writing, the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting, France’s medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters and an honoris causa from McGill University, where he earned a BA in Art History before completing graduate work at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts.

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth co-wrote the hit song Psycho Killer with David Byrne while they were still at RISD but founded the band Talking Heads two years later, performing for the first time in 1975. Jerry Harrison had played keyboards in the seminal punk rock band The Modern Lovers before joining Talking Heads in 1976. A year later, the band released its first album, which was immediately hailed as a breakthrough. Talking Heads went on to tour the world, record 10 albums and work with Jonathan Demme in making Stop Making Sense, among the best concert films of all time. Harrison has since released three solo albums, produced recordings for such artists as the Violent Femmes, Foo Fighters and No Doubt, and helped to define the online music industry. In 2013 his film Take Me to the River won the SXSW Audience Award and the Feature Film of the Festival Award at the Raindance Film Festival in London. Frantz and Weymouth formed the band Tom Tom Club in 1981, which led to their first gold record through the hits Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love. They continue to record and tour, and have embarked on a new electronic music project. Frantz, Harrison and Weymouth were all inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 for their work with Talking Heads.

The 2015 Alumni Award for Artistic Achievement will also be presented at Commencement. Since accomplished painterMiriam Beerman is unable to travel to Providence, her son will accept the award on her behalf. Studying with the legendary RISD professor and painter John Frazier (a graduate of the Class of 1912 and later, president of the college) instilled in Beerman a lifelong love of abstract expressionism. During her 65-year career, she embraced the “beauty and vigor” of painting as a means of bearing witness to the injustices, atrocities and absurdities of our times. An accomplished colorist, Beerman infused her organic, layered canvases with a political and emotional intensity that is often balanced by moments of comic relief. This spring a new film is being released chronicling her life and work, which has been on view in 32 solo shows – including one this year at the Wriston Art Center in Appleton, WI. Beerman’s paintings are also represented in the collections of the RISD Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, among many others.

A series of exhibitions leading up to Commencement will highlight new works produced by graduating students, including the Senior Invitational Exhibition at Woods-Gerry Gallery, the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition at the RI Convention Center, a selection of graduate student works at Sol Koffler Gallery, a student-curated exhibition at the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery in the Chace Center and the Senior Film/Animation/Video Festival at the RISD Auditorium.

RISD’s exuberant Commencement ceremony offers a festive culmination to years of creative exploration in the studio. Students are encouraged to express their ideas, passions and individuality by having fun with visually altering their traditional black caps and gowns in any way they would like. For more information on RISD’s 2015 Commencement, visit