83rd Commencement: A Joyous Celebration of Graduates and The New School’s Centennial
Let’s make some silence!” was Ta Kasitipradit’s rallying cry for a guided meditation session he led a few minutes after graduates danced to the joyful and boisterous music of an alumni-led Latin jazz band. This creative contrast, highlighting the eclecticism inherent at The New School, were at the heart of the 83rd Commencement inside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Friday, May 17, 2019.
Addressing thousands of graduates, and their families and friends, student speaker Kasitipradit reflected on his youth in Thailand, where he first learned the silence and stillness of meditation. Confiding that meditation was something he found uncomfortable at first, he now connects it to the creative process, sharing that “as creatives, we know full well our need to be as friendly with silence as with our own craft. But that doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be comfortable. Learning to embrace that discomfort through his studies and to “question things as a way to explore, as a way to learn” proved to be a transformative experience in his education.
Before Kasitipradit’s speech, the crowd was treated to a performance by Linda Briceño, BFA, Jazz and Contemporary Music ‘18 and MA, Arts, Management and Entrepreneurship ‘19, which started with an inspirational acapella version of an African-American spiritual before launching into several lively Latin jazz numbers. Celebrating her graduation today as part of the inaugural MA program, Briceño had the crowd on their feet in celebration.
Part of the newest group of New School grads, Kasitipradit and Briceño were the high note in The New School’s 83rd Commencement, a rousing celebration of the university’s graduating class on 2019.
New School President David Van Zandt presided over the ceremony at Arthur Ashe Stadium. As the university marks it Centennial in 2019, Van Zandt noted “It’s a time to reflect on our past, look forward to our future, and reaffirm that we stand for a university that’s dedicated to new ways of thinking, new modes of research and creative expression, and new ways of solving problems,” he said. The ceremony can be viewed on live stream.
Addressing the 2,300 graduates, and their family and friends, Van Zandt praised graduates for being “part of an academic community working to confront the urgent issues of our time such as climate change, social and economic inequality, and immigration policies.”
This year, the platform party had a very special guest in Connor Davis, Fashion Design ‘19. Davis was a rising senior in 2014 when a serious accident left him mostly paralyzed. He persevered, continuing his studies by taking one class at a time remotely, to graduate this year. Davis now focuses his creative work on designing for others with physical disabilities.
Also receiving recognition were the recipients of the Distinguished Teaching Awards. This year, Laura Palermo, Eugene Lang College of LIberal Arts; Jeffrey Riman, Parsons School of Design; Shawani Venkataraman, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts; Gabriel Vignoli, Schools of Public Engagement were selected for this honor. Katayoun Chamany, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts was acknowledged with the Award for Outstanding Achievements in Diversity and Social Justice Teaching.
A trio of socially engaged activists, writers, and philanthropists who demonstrate that change can occur through quiet activism, out-front social media movements, and humor were selected as honorary degree recipients. These special degrees are given to inspiring figures whose contributions embody the New School ethos. Receiving honors this year are philanthropist, attorney and longtime New School Trustee Robert Mundheim; Me Too Movement founder Tarana Burke; and New York Times best-selling author and Parsons alumnus Kevin Kwan.
Mundheim, who was a refugee from Nazi Germany as a child, found it particularly meaningful to be recognized by The New School, since the university is “the home of the University in Exile and was a home for Jewish refugees in the 1930s,” he said. Sharing that he was the pro bono president of the American Academy in Berlin, Mundheim stated his belief that “we try to deal with and value each other as individuals. I think that’s a very important part of The New School philosophy.”
Burke, a native New Yorker who brought greetings from the Boogie Down Bronx, used her moment to “talk about power and accountability.” Stating that “privilege and power don’t have to be evil,” she asked graduates that as they rise to power to make sure “that rise does not disempower others…because if your rise to power isn’t righteous, the seeds you plant along the way will bear strange fruit.”
Kwan, BFA Photography, found his moment addressing New School graduates surreal, as he almost didn’t get to come to Parsons at all. For him, “it all began there” at Parsons, where he found his tribe, and was inspired by the incredibly creative people surrounding him. Deciding to enroll at Parsons after already starting a masters in creative writing program at another university, he praised the school for helping him “find my voice as an artist and writer” — something he used to great effect in his bestselling Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. Learning how to create in a new way, “Parsons truly changed my life and I hope it has changed yours.”
In his speech, Kasitipradit showed that the graduating classes indeed have had their lives changed. “We all recognize that we must live our best and truest life, not just for our own sake, but for so many people around the world who couldn’t be themselves safely. When we are represented…be it in movies, romcoms, and books, we are empowered to be our best self,” he said.
“As we are graduating, we have the tools, the vocabulary, and the means to make those kinds of spaces for each other,” Kasitipradit said. “We are not naive enough to wait for change. That’s so yesterday. We recognize each other and especially ourselves as modes of change.”