The New School’s 85th Commencement Ceremony Celebrates the Ingenuity, Resilience, and Creativity of the Class of 2021
Images of the University Center’s green roof, the Glassbox Theater at Arnhold Hall, and the 66 West 12th Street facade highlighted a dynamic musical performance by students in the College of Performing Arts celebrating the Class of 2021 during The New School’s 85th Commencement. While the global pandemic has continued to restrict the ability to convene large-scale gatherings, this jubilant virtual celebration held on Friday, May 14, 2021 showcased the inventiveness, resilience, and creativity of the university.
Emceed by Borana Ramizi, BFA ’21, Dramatic Arts and Rebecca Rhoades, BA ’21, Literary Studies, BFA ’21, Jazz and Contemporary Music, the ceremony featured remarks from President Dwight A. McBride, insights from student speakers, the recognition of honorary degree and distinguished teaching awards recipients, along with a special performance by students from the College of Performing Arts. A jubilant expression of The New School’s pride in the Class of 2021, the virtual event also bridged the geographic distance between the New York campus and Parsons Paris, with graduates from the Paris program joining this year’s main university ceremony and festivities.
New School President Dwight A. McBride presided over the ceremony, acknowledging that the graduating students earned their degrees during a profoundly disruptive time marked by a global pandemic, acts of senseless violence, threats to the democratic process, increasing effects of climate change, and deeply entrenched racism. While graduates had to complete their studies during this challenging time, McBride noted that he’s “buoyed by the confidence in our graduating students and I know that each of you is well prepared to lead change…You’ve gained capacities that will empower you to be active citizens, architects of new vision, and agents of change wherever you go.”
During the ceremony, a trio of socially engaged philanthropists, artists, and activists were recognized with honorary degrees for their lives and work that reflect the highest values of the university.
Visionary interdisciplinary artist Ping Chong was honored for using the arts as a healing force designed to bring people together through a celebration of our shared humanness. Chong has created over 100 original works for the stage, and is the founder of Ping Chong and Company, whose work centers innovation, collaboration, and community engagement, and amplifies underrepresented voices.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, was honored for being a champion for inclusive justice and encouraging other leaders to work towards a future where social justice, equality, and inclusion prevail. Guided by Walker, the Ford Foundation became the first non-profit in US history to issue a $1 billion-designated social bond in US capital markets for proceeds to strengthen and stabilize non-profit organizations in the wake of COVID-19.
Community activists José Alberto and Luz Mery Gutierrez were honored for their work to promote literacy in their home country of Colombia. From initially salvaging a discarded copy of Anna Karenina, Bogota sanitation worker José Alberto and Luz Mery created informal community libraries filled with discarded books. Their efforts grew into La Fuerza de las Palabras (The Power of Words) Foundation, which over the past 25 years has distributed 50,000 books in 25 community libraries.
To highlight the accomplishments of the Class of 2021, six student speakers representing each of the university’s six colleges used this special moment to address their classmates as they prepare for their next steps after The New school.
Schools of Public Engagement student Haya Hadad, MA ’21 International Affairs, noted how the lessons she learned at The New School went beyond the academic: “We should make the human story the center of our understanding of public policy. To think of people as people and not abstractions who have to conform to bloodless logic or practical theory, but as people, fragile, with imperfect minds and hearts that can be touched with simple yet urgent needs. This is what it means to be a New Schooler.”
Representing The New School for Social Research, Nicholas Fiori PhD ’20 Politics, celebrated how as students they “reap the intellectual gift of The New School—a diversity of thinkers, artists, and activists each committed to making sense of difficult problems…This is not the moment to rely on what we have learned or to rest satisfied with our commencement. But to rehearse the practices and rhythms of collected interdisciplinary work in whatever capacity we find ourselves next.”
College of Performing Arts (CoPA) student Kayla Miller, MA ’21 Arts Management and Entrepreneurship, shared how CoPA taught her to be comfortable with the discomfort of not always knowing the answers to your questions. “Life isn’t about finding answers, it’s about finding questions. Questions that will help offer exploration, deepen understanding, and invite creativity. It’s about having the audacity to ask the questions that should be asked.”
Julie (Sunghyun) Ahn, BFA ’21 Communication Design, shared how Parsons School of Design allowed her to expand her mindset, discovering that “here, when posed a question for an assignment, everyone is expected to bring in different interpretations and perspectives. There is no right or wrong, good or bad…The New School taught us to swim in deep waters and to embrace the unexplored ocean rather than to swim away to the safe shore.”
As the first student from Parsons Paris to give remarks at the main university ceremony, Jingxin Wang, MA ’21 Fashion Studies, lauded how faculty and staff have built a tight-knit community for students that is crucial to their success. “Students, faculty, and staff build a warm family together, supporting and helping each other. I would like to thank all the faculty and staff, especially at Parsons Paris. Without your help and hard work, we would not have become what we are today.”
Olufunmilayo Tejuoso, BA ’21 Global Studies, observed that students have been “seeing in real-time what horrors are making of our futures—greed, hate, destruction.” Finding that the knowledge students gained at Eugene Lang College have taught them to “imagine a better world, then bring your imaginations to life. For if The New School gave us nothing else, it gave us the insight and language to know that we already have in us all the tools we need to fashion a new world for ourselves and future generations.”
With poignant messages of support from the 2021 Distinguished Teaching Award recipients—Jonathan Bach, Schools of Public Engagement; Nicki Pombier Berger, College of Performing Arts; Jimmy Owens, College of Performing Arts; Matt Whitman, Parsons School of Design; Nadia Williams, Parsons School of Design; Outstanding Achievements in Social Justice Teaching recipient Mia Charlene White, Schools of Public Engagement—as well as United States Senator Chuck Schumer and Bill Ritter, BA ’16 BPATS, the ceremony concluded as the Class of 2021 joined the storied ranks of New School alumni.