May 22, 2020
Graduating students, families, friends, welcome! Thank you for joining today on this special occasion to celebrate the Juilliard Class of 2020. None of us could have imagined that today would be like this. Spread out over the country and across seas, we are having a commencement that challenges all expectation. But through this all, I am heartened by our ability to circumvent and to invent. In many ways, we are here together. I am reminded that we define togetherness.
So today, I want to talk to you, class of 2020, about that togetherness, about connectivity. What does it mean to be together, and why are you as artists tasked with being champions of that connectivity – that togetherness? Is this simply an emotional commitment, or, is it dependent on what we put into that commitment? Because togetherness is not a facile concept, a sentimental moment when we all feel an uplift of commonality. It can be far more than that. And the rigor and excellence of our practice determines our ability to connect through art with each other, and with our audiences. And that is what you have invested in at Juilliard. You have honed your skills to be connectors, and that is the ultimate goal of all of your work- that you connect it to others.
When the threats of covid-19 first rose, the situation demanded that we separate. The deeply difficult but necessary decision to transition online was steeped with challenges. But, the overwhelming reaction from you, our Juilliard community, was one of unity. You helped friends move when they couldn’t get back to campus. You supported each other in hours of heartbreak and of fear. You circulated joy in the virtual world. Your faculty not only mobilized to adapt their courses, but they faced the challenge with grace and with tenacity, and importantly, with compassion and kindness. Juilliard has proven that our togetherness is more powerful than any obstacle of proximity.
In January, Dr. Clarence b. Jones, speechwriter and lawyer for MLK Jr. - and Juilliard trained clarinetist - was the recipient of our presidential medal. At the ceremony, he said: “At Juilliard, you are making people who can make people dream… who can make people imagine, make people hope.” What a responsibility that is: to unite others through art.
Because art pinpoints that voice deep within us that is so easily squandered by the noise of everyday life. And truly great art cuts through all of that noise, that is what the excellence is for. Creating such art is essential because when all the excess of the world falls away, our search for the human connection remains. This situation that we find ourselves in today might be unlike anything we have faced before, but in our artistic practice, we are ready. We have been rehearsing.
I want to end by saying thank you. You have brought openness, resilience, and humor, even in a time of darkness. So thank you for being a community that we can all be forever proud to be a part of.
We’ve been reminded that Juilliard is not a building. Juilliard is the community that we have built – it’s all of you.
As that community, we must embrace our collective challenge: we cannot wait for the world to tell us to forge pathways. So class of 2020, dig deep. You’ve worked hard for this. The skills you have honed here and the relationships you’ve made will help you create channels of human connection. These channels announce the essential nature of art, and of this passage you are making as artists today. You can make people dream.
Congratulations class of 2020.