Take Root–Imagine the Possibilities was the theme of orientation 2012, and some 220 new students put down roots at Juilliard during the proceedings. Orientation ran from August 26 through September 5; this annual rite of passage included the serious (placement exams), the semi-serious (learning about programs like Mentoring and Educational Outreach), and the fun (excursions to Chinatown, the Union Square Farmer's Market, and other New York City locations). The big kickoff was the president's welcome session on August 27; following are excerpts of remarks made by composition D.M.A. student Evan Fein at that session.
President Polisi has asked that I share a few words of wisdom with you. He figures that I have some wisdom since this is my ninth year of college—which I suppose proves that I’m either very wise or completely insane. What I can say is that by the time you get to your ninth year of college, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking; looking back on the time you’ve already spent; evaluating what you’ve done, and what you have yet to do; kicking yourself for mistakes you’ve made, congratulating yourself for ones you avoided making. So I’m glad that I have the chance to talk with you all for a few minutes today and share a few things that I wished I would have known when I started college, and when I got to Juilliard.
There is really no point in mincing words or denying that you are now enrolled in the most famous arts school in the world. Juilliard is a household name, a fixture of popular culture thanks to films like Save the Last Dance and High School Musical. Outside the five boroughs, even its name is spoken with hushed reverence, and evokes certain inescapable notions in the imaginations of the general public. I’d be willing to bet that when you told your family and friends you had been accepted here, they treated you as if you’d somehow already made it to the top. Then there’s the overwhelming roster of notable alumni, some of whom may even be your heroes or the people who inspired you to pursue the arts in the first place. And suddenly you find yourself walking the same fabled halls. Let’s face it, that’s a pretty big burden to carry. It was a lot for me to take, and ultimately I found it was a completely unproductive thing to ponder.
Why? Because each of us is on a special and unique personal path. Each of us has come to the arts for a slightly different reason. And for that reason, I would like to caution you against comparing your work to that of your peers or heroes or mentors. Rather, I would like to challenge you all to constantly look inward, even as you grow out into this profession. To compare yourself only to yourself, weigh your progress only by its own merit, and demand nothing more or less of yourself than your honest best at all times. If you do, you will move forward with pride and with confidence.
I’d like to add, however, and importantly, that though each of our paths is quite personal, our goal is quite similar: to strive for the continual perfection of our craft in pursuit of an expression that awakens something beautiful in ourselves and in our audiences.
You’ll recall that theme for this year’s orientation is Taking Root and Imagining Possibilities. At the risk of being corny, I’m going to indulge the Orientation Committee in its metaphor. I’m sure they’re trying to conjure images of people reaching out, taking nourishment from one another, growing out, growing up. But the point isn’t that art has the power to bring people together, the point is that it can’t help but bring people together. A work of art is the ultimate act of generosity, both on the part of the artist and on the part of the person who lets themselves be moved by it. Of course art has the power to bring people together, so it’s only logical that we should come together to make art. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to look out at everyone and know that this is the beginning of some amazing ideas, some incredible projects that will change lives. This whole is a lot greater than the sum of its parts. By embracing a career in the arts, you have embraced the fact that you have the power to engage in something much bigger than yourself. Those of you living in the residence hall will soon notice, if you haven’t already, that the folks at the Office of Student Affairs have tried conspicuously to put you together with people outside your discipline. And for good reason. Perhaps the greatest of Juilliard’s assets is the incredible wealth and diversity of talent. Certainly, my own most meaningful undertakings here have been the ones begun by reaching across the boundaries of division and discipline.
I’d like to share a story with you. About four years ago, one of my friends in the Drama Division, whom I’d actually met during the first days of my Juilliard orientation, approached me with an idea. His name was Thor and he hailed from Reykjavík, Iceland, and his interest had been piqued by a certain Icelandic folk legend. Over coffee one day he told me about the story and his desire to bring it to the stage somehow, a process which he felt should include music. The more he talked about his beautiful native land, the more he convinced himself that the only way for me to really get inside his head was to go there for myself. So over spring break in 2009, I found myself packing my bags and heading for the Arctic Circle—not the most traditionally ideal place for spring break. I found a land of incredible beauty, full of warm and interesting people, and I’m not exactly sure when it happened—but perhaps it was as we were evacuating from a small fishing village in the wake of a series of nearby avalanches—that I realized I had made one of the best decisions of my life. The resulting collaboration became an opera, and after living a further three summers in Iceland to research and compose, I’m pleased to share that the opera had its first staged reading this past May.
I’m telling you this, because somewhere along the line, someone, maybe someone in this very room, is going to ask you to take a leap of faith with them, maybe it will lead to the Arctic Circle, or to hammering floorboards in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, or to the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, or even right back to this very stage. No matter where you end up, if you said yes, you made the right decision.
So once again, I’d like to welcome you all to Juilliard, and invite you to take the opportunity to say “Yes” as much as possible.