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Celebrating the Classes of 2020 and 2022

Celebrating the Classes of 2020 and 2022

The RISD community comes together to honor graduating students driving change and to welcome new president Crystal Williams.

faculty and stage party at Commencement stands to honor Williams

Senior class speaker Joshua Coverdale 22 FAV gets the crowd on its feet to honor Crystal Williams (seated), RISD’s first Black president.

Keynote speaker and honorary degree recipient Cheryl D. Miller described the June 4 Commencement celebration at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as “iconic, epic and historic” and praised the graduating classes of 2020 and 2022 for using their shared determination and vision to transform RISD into a more inclusive and equitable institution. “Your demands for diversity have moved the needle toward a palette of all colors and a family of leadership, faculty and students from around the globe who offer their own truest expressions of self,” she said.

Williams shakes hands with a graduating student

happy graduates in caps and gowns
President Williams congratulates a new grad; graduating students let out a whoop.

Senior class speaker Joshua Coverdale 22 FAV also reflected on the progress RISD has recently made in his moving address, dedicating his diploma to his grandfather and getting the crowd to its feet to welcome new president Crystal Williams. “We saw a shift in RISD’s paradigm alongside the greatest social movement in history,” he declared. “We saw the cluster hire of POC faculty and now, amazingly, the induction this spring of Crystal Williams, RISD’s first Black president.” 

illustrator Brian Selznick speaks at Commencement
Alumnus Brian Selznick 88 IL offers encouragement at Commencement on Saturday and spoke about his own creative practice earlier in the week. 

Graduate student speaker Julius Cavira MFA 22 SC, a Pacific Islander-American graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and veteran of the US Army—who completed two tours of duty in Iraq before enrolling at RISD—reflected on the positive changes he has witnessed on campus, including the RISD Museum’s commitment to adding more work by artists of color to its collection, as well as the election of President Williams (toward which he served on RISD’s Presidential Search Committee). And noted illustrator and alum speaker Brian Selznick 88 IL, whose 1988 design diploma was printed on a hammer (“a degree you can actually use”), encouraged graduating students to continue to fight the good fight and use their proverbial hammers to “smash things down… and then build the world you want to live in.”

“Light the way, you courageous, beautiful creators… and think about what you want your legacy to be as part of this distinctive lineage.”

President Crystal Williams

Williams, who opened the ceremony by acknowledging that graduating students brought their people and their histories with them to RISD, praised their leadership and vision. “Your imagination is needed out in the wide world,” she added. “So, light the way, you courageous, beautiful creators… and think about what you want your legacy to be as part of this distinctive lineage.” She went on to award honorary degrees to Miller and acclaimed artist/educator Nick Cave.

grad hooding ceremony inside the First Baptist Church

grads partying in Market Square sunshine
Graduate Hooding Ceremony inside the First Baptist Church in America; graduating students celebrate with their families in Market Square.

The festivities began earlier in the week, with a fascinating talk by Selznick about his creative practice and the annual Grad Hooding Ceremony at the First Baptist Church in America on Friday afternoon presided over by Provost Kent Kleinman. The time-honored event featured eminent Pakistani-American artist, RISD alumna and trustee Shahzia Sikander MFA 95 PR/PT, who asked the master’s degree candidates how they intend to make meaning with their work and their actions and create a more just world after RISD.

“Keep moving forward, keep taking creative risks and keep making.”

Graduate Hooding speaker Shahzia Sikander MFA 95 PR/PT

“Your generation is poised to break down barriers,” she said. “Contribute through your work to the vast, human collective where we all come together to tell our stories by being curious and engaged and by asking new questions. Keep moving forward, keep taking creative risks and keep making.”

students pose in front of neon lights spelling out RISD

a swirl of dancers under the lights
New graduates, alumni and other members of the community cutting a rug at the inaugural all-campus dance on Friday night.

After the ceremony, grads and their families streamed out into the spring sunshine, which held steady throughout the weekend. It shone down on newly united Commencement and Reunion Weekend events, including a post-Commencement reception in Market Square, the popular RISD Craft alumni and student sale on Benefit Street and a host of family-friendly activities on RISD Beach organized by the Alumni Association

RISD Craft sale on Benefit Street
Shoppers enjoy the sunshine and cast their votes for the People’s Choice Awards at RISD Craft.

The revelries continued after the sun went down with a Friday-evening all-campus dance near the pedestrian bridge over the Providence River and a commemorative WaterFire lantern lighting on Saturday night. After two years of pandemic-related challenges and the remarkable resilience it took to succeed despite all, RISD’s classes of 2020 and 2022 were ready to light up the night.

Simone Solondz / photos by Matt Watson 09 FAV

Watch the speeches by visiting risd.edu/commencement.

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