Going Out On A High Line: Hammond’s Speech Inspires Grads


On May 18th thousands of New Schoolers from across divisions gathered at New York’s Javits Convention Center for the university’s 76th commencement. With president David E. Van Zandt presiding over the ceremony, Robert Hammond, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Friends of the High Line addressed the crowd about his grassroots effort to launch Manhattan’s High Line, known around the world for its innovative landscape design and use of public space.

Displaying a stack of rejection letters from early potential employers (and eliciting a cheer from the graduates), Hammond told New Schoolers that he found refusal and failure to be crucial experiences in his personal and professional development.

“Rejection can be a good teacher, and sometimes you almost need to seek it out to be freed from it,” said Hammond. “When you see the High Line, I hope it reminds you that crazy dreams can come true.”

Hammond was joined on stage by graduating Eugene Lang College senior (and incoming New School for Social Research MA candidate) Alexander Gleason. In true New School fashion, Gleason’s speech straddled disciplines, tying his study of economics at the university to lessons he took from the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. Gleason urged the new alumni to remain true to The New School’s iconoclastic legacy, concisely summed up by a line from Anyone Can Whistle: Everybody says don’t, but I say do.,

In addition to Hammond, degrees were granted to individuals whose contributions embody The New School’s commitment to publicly engaged scholarship and social action: Robert Jay Lifton, founder of the field of psychohistory and author of more than 20 books including The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide and Destroying the World in Order to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism; Brooke Gladstone, co-host and managing editor of NPR’s nationally broadcast On the Media and author of The Influencing Machine; and Ana L. Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation, and former Executive Director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

View Hammond’s speech in the video below, and read the full text of his, President Van Zandt, and Gleason’s addresses at www.newschool.edu/commencement.