The New School’s annual Commencement ceremony has been marked by a tradition of inspirational figures—Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, essayist Frank Rich, author Zadie Smith—sending off the university’s graduating class with a personal perspective on the next stage of their lives.
But traditions are meant to be upended—especially at The New School.
This year, not one, but six speakers/honorary degree recipients will take turns delivering brief, powerful talks, dispensing with the formalities and getting to the heart of their advice to The New School’s graduating class.
Each of the speakers could own the podium by himself or herself: actress Laverne Cox, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband, and forensic anthropologist Mercedes Doretti. But this year’s Commencement will feature six times the power.
— deray mckesson (@deray) March 30, 2016
For members of the graduating class bent on pursuing social change–driven careers, Cox, von Furstenberg, Mckesson, Sarkeesian, Miliband, and Doretti are beacons of inspiration.
A trailblazer for the transgender community, Laverne Cox is the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show (Orange Is the New Black) and the first trans woman of color to produce and star in her own television show (TRANSForm Me). She regularly speaks out on trans rights and visibility in American culture and society.
Diane von Furstenberg, a fashion icon who launched a multi-million-dollar fashion empire, helped pave the way for women in fashion while supporting community building, education, human rights, arts, health, and the environment through The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation. Her wrap dress “helped define the zeitgeist of the ’70s,” according to the New York Times.
DeRay Mckesson is an educator, activist, and social media guru who began as a community organizer in his hometown of Baltimore and later rose to prominence with the Black Lives Matter movement. His civil rights work led Fortune magazine to name him one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders in 2015.
Anita Sarkeesian is a media critic and the creator of Feminist Frequency, a video Web series that explores the representation of women in pop culture narratives. Her fearless work focuses on deconstructing the stereotypes and tropes associated with women in popular culture and highlights the targeted harassment of women in online and gaming spaces.
David Miliband is the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, an organization that provides aid to people affected by humanitarian crises around the world. Miliband has had a distinguished political career in the United Kingdom, serving as foreign secretary and promoting human rights.
Mercedes Doretti is a forensic anthropologist who unearths evidence of crimes against humanity. Her work is aimed at restoring a voice to long-silenced victims and presenting critical findings to tribunals, human rights organizations, and special commissions around the globe.
“I am thrilled to welcome our honorary degree recipients, all of whom have worked tirelessly to confront pressing issues such as racial and gender inequity, LGBT rights, and crimes against humanity,” said President David E. Van Zandt, who will preside over the Commencement ceremony. “I encourage our graduating students to follow the lead of our honorary degree recipients by thinking creatively and critically to challenge the status quo.”
The 2016 graduating class can also look to one of their own for encouragement. A first-generation college graduate, Colin Bedell enrolled at The New School in 2011 as a nontraditional transfer student at Eugene Lang College. While at Lang, he worked as an admissions ambassador for the college and at the New School Free Press. After receiving his BA in Literary Studies with a concentration in Nonfiction Writing in 2014, he stayed at the university as a Provost’s Scholar in the MA in Fashion Studies program at Parsons School of Design.
“I decided to apply to be the student speaker at Commencement because of how this university helped me become the person I’ve always been capable of being,” Bedell said. “In that experience, I have discovered many gifts within our university that I felt inspired to share with my fellow graduates.”
The New School’s 80th Commencement exercises take place on Friday, May 20, at 11:00 a.m. at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, 655 West 34th Street, New York City. The event will be broadcast live on Livestream.