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2020 Commencement student speakers, clockwise from top right corner: Didintle Ntsie, Luis Tsukayama-Cisneros, Pedro Troncoso, Celeste Sena, and Arta Jēkabsone
2020 Commencement student speakers, clockwise from top right corner: Didintle Ntsie, Luis Tsukayama-Cisneros, Pedro Troncoso, Celeste Sena, and Arta Jēkabsone

The New School’s 84th Commencement Celebrates Class of 2020 with the University’s First Virtual Ceremony

“Shout out to the internet for bringing us all together,” read a comment posted during The New School’s 84th Commencement ceremony, a virtual celebration held on Friday, May 15, 2020. Occurring during a unique moment in history, in the midst of a global pandemic that has restricted the ability for large scale gatherings, this unexpected, but no less joyful, celebration showcased the creativity, ingenuity, and resiliency of the university. 

Emceed by students Olivia Battle, MFA ’20 School of Drama, and Covi Brannan, BFA ‘19 School of Drama and MA ‘20 College of Performing Arts, the ceremony created a warm space for students, families, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni to celebrate the diverse and exemplary achievements of the class of 2020. The program also highlighted notable New School faculty and alumni, showcasing their remarks, musical compositions and performances throughout the event. 

Composite image of students from the class of 2020

President Dwight A. McBride, presiding over his first commencement at The New School, acknowledged this unprecedented moment in time, giving a special thanks to those working on the frontlines of the pandemic and remembering those who have lost loved ones to the virus. While noting that the pandemic presented unique challenges to the class of 2020, he declared “we will not let this pandemic steal our joy today.” Reminding graduates that they selected to attend The New School due to its reputation for innovation, bold creativity, fearless engagement with issues and abiding commitment to social justice, President McBride asked graduates “ How will you carry this work forward? There are untold challenges to tackle–balance moral, social, economic, and psychological dimensions of risk, protecting lives and ensuring a resilient society. The world needs what you have to offer.”

Later in the ceremony, Provost Tim Marshall presented the Class of 2020 with a surprise gift–a free one-year premium membership to LinkedIn. This is a first of its kind partnership between LinkedIn and any university. In announcing the gift, Provost Marshall noted, “As you become an alumni of The New School, we wanted to help your career get started on the right foot. We wish you the very best.”

 This year, the university pivoted from recognizing honorary degree recipients, handing that time over to student speakers selected from each of the university’s five colleges. The speakers represented the global diversity of the university, hailing  from Peru, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Latvia, as well as the New York tri-state area. Each took this special moment to address their classmates as they prepare for their next steps after The New School.

Didintle Ntsie, BPATS ’20, Schools of Public Engagement, reminisced about New York City as it was just a few months ago, filled with subway rides, gatherings in Washington Square Park, and meeting with friends. Recognizing that the post-pandemic world will be forever changed, “I see it as an open call, an invitation, to all of us at The New School to take the education that we have received and see how we can imagine a world that is responsive to our ever evolving needs and desires, while also taking into account sustainable development.”

Representing the College of Performing Arts, Arta Jekabsone, BFA ’19 School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, MA ’20 Arts Management and Entrepreneurship, encouraged graduates to think about their purpose after graduation. “As an artist, I feel the most important thing to understand and ask yourself every single day is what can I give to this world?” She continued “Now, the force of the universe is giving us a chance to make things different and we should be wise enough to really take time and evaluate our values, our strengths and weaknesses, and what and how we can give.”

Parsons School of Design student Pedro Troncoso, BFA ’20 Illustration, celebrated how our differences found within the community are our strengths. “We are here to celebrate our weirdness, our quirkiness, our hidden side because those elements we never show to the world are the ones we need, especially in this time.” He continued “our school has improved our right to create. Now everything we perceive we can paint over it, we can redesign it, we can add dimensions to it because we possess the right tools that keep the harmony of differences in our surroundings.”

As a student at The New School for Social Research, Luis J. Tsukayama-Cisneros, PhD ‘20 Sociology, shared “I grew as a sociologist at NSSR, but I also learned how to think as a critical intellectual from collaborating with colleagues from different divisions of the school, as well as from engaging with Parsons and Lang students when I was a TA. As our time at The New School is coming to an end, I encourage you to remember clearly what it felt to learn from the great variety of people who were and continue to be your community.”

Eugene Lang College’s Celeste Sena, BA ‘20 Theater and Screenwriting, reflected on when she first understood what it means to be a student at The New School, and the need to be self-starting, tenacious, creative, and resilient. Considering the new reality graduates are stepping into, she noted “I take comfort in the fact that The New School has made us uniquely qualified to meet this moment of uncertainty. The New School has taught us to lean into the discomfort, because it is in those moments that leadership is born and innovation is created.” 

While some aspects of commencement shifted in this moment of time, the College of Performing Arts maintained its tradition of presenting a special musical performance to celebrate the graduating class. The Mannes Orchestra, along with 100 students from programs across the college, joined together via the magic of technology to record a performance of “Variations on Simple Gifts” from Appalachian Spring, composed by former New School faculty member Aaron Copland. 

The ceremony also took a moment to honor our 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award recipients Nancy Roach, Parsons School of Design, Evan Rapport, Eugene Lang College, Alice Cohen, Schools of Public Engagement, Terry Williams, The New School for Social Research, and 2020 Outstanding Achievements in Social Justice Teaching Award recipient Mindy Fullilove, Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment, who shared heartfelt messages of support to the graduating class. They were joined in this acknowledgement by alumni Bill Ritter, BPATS ’16, Donna Karan, MFA ’87, Jillian Hervey, The Arts ‘11, and activist Shaun King. 

After the conferral of degrees, President McBride concluded the ceremony by welcoming the Class of 2020 to the storied ranks of New School alumni. “Please stay in touch and involved with this community that has been such an important part of your lives. The New School is your university and will always be your home. We can’t wait to see what extraordinary things you’ll contribute to the world.”

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