As we mark the first day of the fall semester, I need to start by expressing my gratitude for the ways this community has confronted this moment in our history. To our students, both new and returning, your generation has been tested, and it is with conviction and pride that I say you are Juilliard. Take heart that this is a truly unique learning time, when we can make progress in areas that we might not focus on in our “normal” life. To our faculty and staff, you have surpassed any reasonable expectations again and again over the last months and will continue to as we move forward from this moment until we reach the end of this historic period. The distinction of your service has taken on forms never envisioned as you have dynamically found new ways to educate, support, and nurture our students. I am immensely grateful to our board of trustees, alumni, donors, and parents, whose support of and belief in Juilliard propels us forward, today and always. I also want to celebrate the opening of our Tianjin campus, give a warm welcome to our new students across the world, and send my congratulations to the leadership, faculty, and staff of the Tianjin Juilliard School as they matriculate their first class of graduate students. I want to extend a special appreciation to President Emeritus and Chief China Officer Joseph Polisi, who dreamt of this expansion for Juilliard and has led it to a thrilling reality.
In this moment, as we gradually move toward the time when we can safely be together again, we must rely on our flexibility and our adaptability as artists and as citizens. We must remind ourselves how inventive we are and demand that creativity of ourselves at every turn. Always asking: How can we? What if we? Could we? We must use our artistic habits of mind to make this time not only memorable for what we have endured, but also for what we have accomplished and for how we have rallied, despite the circumstances. Because despite those circumstances, and despite the uncertainty we face, we maintain our sense of purpose in all we do.
That sense of purpose is a lifelong engine for progress. We rely on it as students, as teachers, as administrators, as human beings. Purpose fuels our work and is bolstered by the influences we encounter throughout our lifetimes. In this year, our purpose has been strengthened by the health crisis we have faced, bridging us to every step we will take until we emerge from this into a renewed era of connectivity. At the same time, our country has galvanized around the need to confront issues of systemic racism and violence against Black members of our society by those sworn to serve and protect. We have felt the ground shake by protests against racial injustice by millions of people across the world. Juilliard’s response must be grounded in our commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) as a core value, and an essential component of excellence. As I stated in the first community letter of my presidency in July 2018:
Excellence in life and in the arts can only be fully realized when we embrace a robust representation of experience and perspective. The communities we work in at Juilliard—the communities of students, teachers, staff, peers, collaborators, and audiences—must include all voices. Here at Juilliard, we dedicate ourselves to that true excellence that is achievable only when all doors are open and all barriers are cast aside.
At that time, I announced that we would introduce new initiatives to carry forward this commitment. That has led to many steps over the last two years, including my appointment in January 2019 of a manager, now director for EDIB initiatives, who is devoted to furthering our work in and outside the school; a dedicated EDIB taskforce to advise and make proposals to my office; EDIB workshops for all faculty and staff; educational partnerships focusing on diversity in classical music with the Sphinx Organization; and, recently, a new position of bias response officer. These are some of the first of many steps to come, recognizing the gravity and the necessity of this work in the world and in our school.
As we begin this unique fall semester, our purpose must be clear. Artistically, we are full speed ahead. Led by our steadfast new provost, Adam Meyer, and deans and directors Alicia Graf Mack, Evan Yionoulis, and Ara Guzelimian (interim); our peerless faculty are powering us forward, innovating and educating, answering the call of this moment brilliantly and bravely. Each class of young artists brings new energy, and new ideas, to layer on top of what came before. I look forward to joining in cheering the achievements of our students in the virtual world and on our Juilliard stages as it becomes safe to begin in-person performances. We will move forward, in all circumstances, with artistic vision and integrity. Our purpose also must be to take responsibility for each other. It is obvious today how our actions affect others. How our behavior can be positive for our community (e.g. wearing masks, social distancing, and following health and safety guidelines), or, bring devastating consequences. In all of what we do, we must recognize what Martin Luther King Jr. called our “inescapable network of mutuality.” That network is a gift to us as individuals, and a responsibility we have as citizens. We truly are the custodians of each other’s welfare. I believe in that responsibility and ask that you embrace our network of mutuality with purpose and love for our art, school, and each other, so that we may progress together. Onward.
With gratitude and warmest wishes,