Firsts Abound at 75th Commencement


After a dizzying semester of growth and change, graduating students and faculty members have their sights set on graduation. In that spirit, The New School’s 75th commencement exercises promise a noteworthy number of firsts. Most obvious to the casual observer is the presence of David E. Van Zandt, our new president, presiding over all.

This year’s 3,199 graduates represent the largest class in New School history. Among these diligent scholars are the university’s first students to receive a Master’s of Fine Arts in Interior Design and the first to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies. The May 23 ceremony will also be the first held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, though the tradition of smaller divisional ceremonies continues at venues around campus and across New York City.

Proud parents, families, and friends of graduates will have the unique opportunity to hear from one of the country’s most revered, to say nothing of opinionated, journalists. Frank Rich, former op-ed columnist and theater critic for The New York Times, will deliver the commencement address.

I am honored to participate in commencement at The New School, a rare academic citadel of independent thought at a time when mercantile careerist values increasingly dominate American institutions of higher learning,, Rich said. The history of The New School is inseparable from the history of progressive thought over the past century, and it’s a thrill to play even a bit role in its ongoing story.,

In addition to Rich, honorary degrees will be awarded to Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation; Tony Kushner, author and playwright whose Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America, enjoyed its first major New York revival this season; and Shigeru Ban, acclaimed Japanese architect noted for designing emergency housing for natural-disaster victims, including those displaced by the recent earthquake in Japan.

In recognition of the sustainability initiatives of The New School, this year’s class will wear gowns made of 100 percent recycled polyester and plastic bottles. According to Jaime Babic, assistant university registrar, the more durable fabric is expected to outlast conventional graduation gowns. Enterprising students, 561 of whom will earn degrees from the School of Fashion at Parsons, may elect to ‘upcycle’ them into an everyday outfit that will always remind them of graduation,, she said. In addition, every one of our spring graduates is encouraged to sign the Graduation Pledge for Sustainability.

The New School has much to celebrate,, said president David Van Zandt. As our graduates can attest, signs of growth and intellectual excitement abound all over campus. The 2011 graduating class saw The New School evolve into something unique in higher education, an institution engaged in the civic life of New York City and the world. I am eager to see how our graduates carry, and optimize, that engagement throughout their lives.”