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Hats Off to RISD’s 2018 MFAs

Hats Off to RISD’s 2018 MFAs

Graduating master’s degree students celebrate their profound achievements at the annual Graduate Hooding Ceremony.

On Friday, June 1, the First Baptist Church in America rang out with the names of RISD’s 208 graduating master’s degree candidates at the annual Graduate Hooding Ceremony. President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID welcomed proud family members and friends, and addressed the new graduates before introducing keynote speaker Risë Wilson, an arts activist, community organizer and chief programming officer for The High Line in NYC.

The grad hooding ceremony takes place in the historic First Baptist Church in America.
President Somerson
Keynote speaker Risë Wilson implored new graduates to shake things up and fully engage with the world.

“These hoods represent your profound achievements,” Somerson said—“your ability to transform self-reflection into a meaningful body of work.” She encouraged students to think of the word “mastery”—as in master’s degree—not as a form of dominance but as “empowering rather than overpowering,” a mark of their own growth and newly honed ability to use their voices to articulate a clear vision.

Taking to the podium next, Wilson described a master’s degree in art and design as a lens through which to view the world’s potential—to see not only what is but what can be. She encouraged the Class of 2018 to “break rules productively, abandon all assumptions… and continue to negotiate fear, discomfort and vulnerability in your work.” She then went on to extend a series of invitations to each graduate.

First, she urged each to be present—“to walk the world un-numb.” In a society rife with racism and inequality, Wilson noted, asking hard questions is not complicated but it is difficult. “Use your talents to wake the world out of its slumber,” she implored.

Wilson also encouraged graduating students to be less patient in their quest to make change in the world. She recommended that everyone take a page from the playbook of millennials who have been criticized by some as being selfish: If you see it, “call bullshit” and demand real answers, she urged.

The difficult work of creative social change, Wilson added, requires self-care. “You must both resist and endure,” she explained, “by forming a community of care.” She encouraged graduates to set personal boundaries in their practices and to understand that “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

And finally Wilson acknowledged the great privilege shared by all RISD students and charged the master’s degree candidates to give their privilege purpose. The arts have been a bastion of unchecked privilege for too long, she exclaimed. “Leverage your assets carefully—your intellectual capital, your relationships—and decide whose voices you want to amplify and how to leverage your agency to disrupt the status quo.”

Simone Solondz / photos by Scott Indermaur

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