Drama alumna and trustee Laura Leggett Linney exhorted the members of the Juilliard class of 2013 to remains students and live their art in unexpected ways in her rousing May 24 speech. Following are excerpts. You can also listen to it on our YouTube channel.
Now, my friends, you have done more than get in to Juilliard. You have gotten out of Juilliard. You are as prepared as a graduating artist can be. You have done the most you could do for yourself and for your craft, before entering a world that has always been challenging to the arts and to its artists.
You are moving into a world ever ready to remind you that you indeed aren’t in school anymore, a world that demands results quickly and cares very little about how you produce them. It’s true: You are not in school anymore. But now, the school is in you.
That means that the creative tools you have begun to cultivate inside Juilliard will guide you when you’re lost or exasperated, when you don’t know what you’re doing, when you feel alone, when everything is wrong.
When I received my honorary doctorate from Juilliard in 2009, [it made] me stop and think, “A doctor of the arts, hmmm, what a terrific concept.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when we went to see our medical doctors, we could also go to a doctor of the arts and have them diagnose our ailments and then prescribe the most healing art for our given situation?
Depressed? Immerse yourself the sounds of Louis Prima or the jazz of Jon Batiste (B.M. ’08, M.M. ’12, jazz studies), and watch the soaring beauty of a young Suzanne Farrell or Baryshnikov. Angry? Let Dawn Upshaw or Renée Fleming (’85, voice) soothe you. Or recite some Lear until catharsis takes hold. Anxious? Surround yourself with the salve that is Chopin and the truths of Oscar Wilde. Disconnected? Try a poultice of Proust and inhale a production of De La Guarda or Mother****** With the Hat. Grieving? Read some Robert Frost.
The arts are healing. The performing arts, radically so. They change the way we view ourselves and others. They provide stunning beauty when the world feels ugly and bereft. They illuminate the truth when life is overwhelming and we are distracted. They make us feel that we are not alone.
I encourage you to be your own doctor of the arts. Use and follow the inherent wisdom of the great work that has come before you. Seek out the exciting work that is being created right now. Cling to it like a life preserver when necessary, and, most wonderfully, remember that your dance, music, and theater will continually heal you while you help to heal others.
Today, you head out into the world hoping to inspire audiences, to grow as an artist, and, hopefully, to earn a living. It’s worth remembering that though this school has given you many gifts, it didn’t give you talent. Talent is what you gave Juilliard—and this school, your teachers, and the students you have gone through this experience with are the better for it.
A blessing and a curse of being a Juilliard student or graduate is that no one, and I mean no one, knows what it is like to go to Juilliard unless you have gone to Juilliard. And likewise, no one will know what it is to graduate from Juilliard in 2013 except those of you in this room.
But there are some things I can wish for all of you. One wish is that on the days when you need it, you’ll remember some bit of wisdom that some teacher or fellow student at Juilliard once gave you, something that stuck in your head because you didn’t understand it at the timeand that it will suddenly seem crystal clear and endlessly useful.
I hope you’ll keep a connection with some of the people you have worked with here. You’ll be surprised to learn how deeply invested many of them are in your life as an artist. Regardless of how tough they seemed.
My most fervent wish for you is a vocation in the arts and not a profession. I hope you’ll remember that no matter which art you practice, there is no more valuable skill than the ability to listen carefully. Especially when you listen to the music, or listen to the text, or listen to your body—listen.
I hope you’ll become an advocate for the arts—because the arts need your voice and deserve your loyalty.
I wish for you perspective when situations or people seem more important then they really are, and the ability to detect those people or events who have much to offer, but don’t inherently draw your attention. In other words, charisma is not character. This is also very good dating advice.
I hope you live through your art in unexpected ways. That as citizens, you will use the best part of you and what you have learned to improve your communities—that you will give what has been given to you.
I hope that you say yes more than no.
I hope that you allow the largest part of yourself to remain a student.
I hope you will be patient with yourself and the world as you transition into your “Non-Juilliard” life. It is very different; keep an open mind, your friends, and your sense of humor close by.
But most of all, I hope you’ll celebrate. Not just today. Not just at this graduation with your friends and family and teachers who are so deeply proud of you. But for the rest of your lives.