September 2, 2020
I wanted to set the tone of this year and what possibilities lie ahead with this program today. With our alumni panelists, we are reminded that you are not only joining a class of students, but a continuum. For over a hundred years, artists have come to Juilliard to discover their full artistic selves, to develop their practice, reaching toward excellence always.
And our definition of excellence at Juilliard is one that aims to be inclusive in every way. We recognize that we are not truly excellent unless we represent all voices in our institution, and we are learning and striving for that inclusivity in all ways.
I hope you will be proud of Juilliard and recognize the value of the people here. I think it is a community that is not smug. It is not about saying we are the best. I think that would sell our ambitions far too short. We are a community that recognizes our imperfections. In my third year as president now, I look back already at two years of pivotal moments - two years of things to improve upon. That is one of those artistic habits of mind, that of being reflective. In these last months in particular, coming through the onset of the covid crisis, which disrupted and continues to disrupt every aspect of our lives and activities, to the powerfully needed racial reckoning that galvanizes us as individuals and as a society- we reflect on how we can do better. And that will be your task as well: to look at your place within our community. To look at our institution’s place in the larger performing arts world. And ultimately, to look at the role of the artist and the arts themselves in the betterment of the world around us.
It makes it sound, I realize, like this is all about doing good. But to tell you that would be an oversimplification. What it is about is recognizing the true power of your artistry. That you have the chance - the opportunity - to connect with people. And that in itself is a positive action. Making a connection. That is power. And I don’t mean for this to be simply a happy thing. I go to the theater often to be moved, to feel. To awaken my sensibilities. And this happens through all kinds of emotional responses, from joy to pain, anger to reflection, resting on the sheer majesty and combination of music, dance, and theater. How powerful it is to acknowledge that at Juilliard, we have the opportunity to experience this and strive towards these connections every day. This is what you get to do!
As we go into this year, I encourage you – I urge you - to think of your place in this moment and in our institution. And this includes your commitment to each other, to each other’s safety in this global health crisis. We are as Dr. King said enmeshed in a network of mutuality. It is my honor to be a part of this network with you.
And so, we go forward from this moment. To finish the convocation, in the spirit of collaboration and continuum, I invite you to watch a piece made in collaboration between all our divisions for this occasion. It is based on the Japanese Renga form of poetry in which one stanza is the base for the next one, created by multiple artists building voice upon voice on a central idea. For today, the idea is that you belong here. And you do!
Thank you, and onward!