I love graduation ceremonies—they mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of something new. However, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 graduation ceremonies have shifted from over-flowing auditoriums to maintain physical distancing to online platforms and broadcast television, making them unique beyond imagination. Thankfully, the festivities and memorable instructions from keynote speakers have still helped millions of graduates mark this life-changing milestone with joy.
I had the pleasure of attending the Zoom graduation ceremony for the students who completed the Master of Arts in Performing Arts Administration Graduate Program in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. I have been teaching in this program for more than five years.
The graduating students were visibly excited and their parents and loved ones beamed with pride. The virtual ceremony featured words of praise and encouragement from the program director Richard G Maloney, Ph.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Performing Arts Administration; David Schroeder, DMA, Professor of Jazz Studies and Music and Performing Arts Professions department chairperson, and Pamela Morris, Ph.D., Interim Dean at the Steinhardt School and a Professor of Applied Psychology.
Of course, a virtual ceremony can never replace in-person celebrations filled with flowers, balloons, hugs and tears. However, I couldn’t think of a better way to mark this virtual right-of-passage than by closing the Steinhardt School’s celebration with the traditional tossing of graduation caps into the air.
There was another milestone graduation program I recently watched—the nationwide broadcast of “Graduate Together: America.” The program featured encouragement for the millions of Class of 2020 high school graduates from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, NBA Superstar Lebron James, U.S. Women’s Soccer Champion Megan Rapinoe, and an empowering, keynote address from former U.S. President Barack Obama.
During his speech, President Obama made three key points that I believe are important for all of the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to share with the young people in our lives, and also embody in our ongoing efforts to promote equity, diversity, inclusion and access in not only the arts, but also in society at-large.
Mr. Obama said:
First, don’t be afraid. America’s gone through tough times before — slavery, civil war, famine, disease, the Great Depression and 9/11. And each time we came out stronger, usually because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.
Second, do what you think is right. Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up.
I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. You won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when its inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you. And you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
And finally, build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say let me just look out for myself, or my family, or people who look or think or pray like me. But if we’re going to get through these difficult times; if we’re going to create a world where everybody has the opportunity to find a job, and afford college; if we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re going to have to do it together.
So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and plans for recovery continue to unfold, it is abundantly clear that the way forward for the Class of 2020, as well as for each of us, is together—together with courage, compassion, and creativity.
As always, I would like to know what you think. Please share your comments below. Stay safe, stay well and be strong!