The New School’s 87th Commencement Celebrates the Transition of the Class of 2023
With a record attendance, The New School’s 87th Commencement returned to the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to celebrate the ingenuity, eclecticism and scholarship of the Class of 2023. Student emcees Xusheng Yu, MFA Industrial Design, and Veronica Espinal, MA in Media Studies, led the festivities as more than 2,500 degrees were conferred to students this year.
Commencement marks an important transition for graduates and student speakers Kamilah Tibbitts, BA Media Studies, and Ruby Thelot, MFA Design and Technology, shared their excitement for reaching this milestone with their classmates.
“My grandmother always said, ‘Baby, bloom where you’re planted’. And, here at The New School I was planted. Planted on fertile ground where our founders in 1919 envisioned a university for emancipating learning and the confidence to look at society as an integrated whole,” said Tibbitts. “I experienced defining moments that took shape in dynamic classroom lectures, friendships over coffee with classmates, critical critiques, and lecture series. It was in those blossoming moments that I began to stand a little taller…You see, I was standing taller because all of you truly saw me. You saw me as a learner, as a scholar. You saw me as a classmate, as a friend. You saw me as I was finally learning to see my true self and for that I am grateful.”
Thelot noted the remarkable achievements and resilience of New School students, noting “In many ways, my presence in this institution feels miraculous, unbelievable, incredible. But today I want to remind both myself and all the other students; the students to whom this destiny was not offered on a silver platter; the students who seized their fates, and shaped their reality; who crawled, struggled, and fought to be here with us today That they belong. You belong. You were meant to be here…We have all been given this great gift: the ability to think critically, to question assumptions, to see the world from a holistic set of perspectives. Let us go into the world and make judicious use of it. As we celebrate our achievements today, let us remember that we must always strive to be agents of change, working towards a more just and equitable society.”
Before Tibbitts and Thelot’s speeches, the crowd was treated to a special performance of an original composition by Selendis Sebastian Alexander Johnson, BFA Jazz and Contemporary Music,called Unity & Struggle (for Fred Ho). Performed by Johnson with 16 College of Performing Arts graduates and students, the experimental and improvisational big band work expands the tradition of The New School’s music programs.
The excitement felt by the students and their families and friends was shared by President Dwight A. McBride who presided over the ceremony. Remarking on the impact New School alumni have made in the world, President McBride said “I hope this ceremony helps you to reflect upon your achievement and the importance each and every one has for the world. I offer the words of our new school alumnus, the late Harry Belafonte. At a 2005 event honoring Martin Luther King Jr., whom Belafonte worked alongside in pursuit of equality, justice, and civil rights, Belafonte memorably urged the young students in attendance to: ‘Lead the struggle for a stronger, better tomorrow and a stronger, better future. Each and every one of you have the power, will and capacity to make a difference in the place you live.’ There is no question that New School students have that same will, power and capacity to make a difference.”
The Class of 2023 was also joined by four socially engaged individuals who received honorary degrees, which are given to inspiring figures whose contributions embody The New School ethos. Author, LGBTQIA+ community activist Jennifer Finney Boylan, Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, fashion designer Telfar Clemens, and composer, singer, and visual artist Cécile McLorin Salvant received this honor for their ability to create transformative action through the use of music, art, activism and scholarship. The honorary degrees were conferred by President McBride and Dr. Michael Schober, Senior Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs, acting on behalf of Provost Renée White who was unable to attend due to an emergency.
Boylan, who was also this year’s commencement speaker, remarked on the importance of being open to and accepting of change, commenting on how this has affected her personally. “As a transgender American I can tell you a lot about what it means to go from one part of your life to the next, although in my own life the biggest change was not going from male to female but going from a person who had a secret to a person without one, a person burdened by a private sense of shame to a person who was able to live her life out loud with pride. Gender isn’t the only thing that’s changed in my life; an even more profound change for me happened half a dozen years ago when I lost my hearing, and I went from a person who had never given serious thought to what it might be like to move through the world as a disabled person to someone who thinks about it all the time.”
Acknowledging the current cultural forces that are pushing against the civil rights gains made by marginalized communities, Boylan said “There are a lot of reasons why the forces of darkness seem to be in ascendance these days—economic and racial injustice; the failure of some of our schools; the upheavals and inequities hard-wired into some aspects of capitalism itself. But really at the heart of a lot of trouble is a simple inability to accept change, a refusal to accept that most things don’t last forever, and in many cases, shouldn’t last forever. It is hard to let go of the way things have been, but when we face injustice, we have to prevail. And make no mistake, to greet the world with love doesn’t mean that you sit around with a dopey smile on your face while the world burns around you. For love to prevail it is necessary to greet the world with fierceness, to push back against injustice with both relentlessness and joy, wisdom and ferocity.”
During the ceremony, the recipients of the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Justice Teaching were honored, recognizing faculty for their excellence in teaching and for actively promoting social justice through their teaching.
Recipients of the 2023 Distinguished University Teaching Awards are Anjali Khosla, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Design, Eugene Lang College; Kenneth Millington, Part-Time Assistant Professor, Parsons First Year, Parsons School of Design; and Hussein Rashid, Part-Time Lecturer, Religious Studies, Eugene Lang College. The 2023 Awards for Outstanding Achievements in Social Justice Teaching were awarded to Chiara Bottici, Associate Professor of Philosophy, New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College; Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Part-Time Lecturer, Jazz, College of Performing Arts (team); and Caroline Davis, Part-Time Lecturer, Jazz, College of Performing Arts (team).
Each year, a faculty member is recognized as the Faculty Marshal at University Commencement for their outstanding contributions to the university. The role recognizes their long-standing service, leadership, dedication to our students, and their lived commitment to The New School’s principles and values. It is a tradition in higher education for the Faculty Marshal, carrying a symbolic mace, to lead the procession of university leadership and faculty into the Commencement ceremony. This year, Luciana Scrutchen, Associate Professor of Fashion Design, Parsons School of Design, was selected to serve as Faculty Marshall through a new process that included faculty nominations for this prestigious role.
President McBride reaffirmed the university as a place for Fearless Progress, sharing that “I recognize the vast challenges and opportunities you have in front of you. The courage to expand lives, to enrich the possibilities for our tomorrows, must surely be shared and nurtured together. It is not enough to be bold yourself. Seek ways to make space for those around you to be nurtured, to be safe, to be lifted up.”
With the conferral of degrees to this year’s graduates, President McBride, exuding pride, closed out the ceremony with “Onward and Upward!”