On May 12, 2017, the very first cohort of Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts graduates walked across the stage of the Moores Opera House. It was a long-awaited moment of celebration for the students – and their families – who earned their Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the School of Art, Moores School of Music, School of Theatre & Dance and the MA in Arts Leadership program. The ceremony kicked off with introductory remarks by Associate Dean David Bertman, followed by a welcome by Dean Andrew Davis, a keynote speech by Broadway producer Stuart Ostrow and performances by the Concert Chorale and the School of Theatre & Dance.
Before families headed into the Moores Opera House lobby for the reception, Dean Andrew Davis closed the convocation with the following message of optimism for the graduates:
As we come to the end of this, our first convocation, I want to say a few words specifically to the graduates. I want you to think back with me not just over these last few years but back further, back to the time that you decided that you wanted to be an artist, and that you wanted to pursue an education, and possibly even a career, in the arts. I would imagine that you did it for many of the same reasons I did it. I went to Penn State University as a civil engineer; but I made the choice halfway through that degree to pursue a liberal arts education in music.
Why did I do it? Why do any of us do it? We make these choices because we understand the value of the arts for the future of our culture, our society and our democracy. We also understand the value of a liberal education in the arts, as one that feeds a hunger for deep intellectual and creative fulfillment that I know we all share. A liberal education and an education in the arts is one that produces the kinds of people that I think we need more of in our society today: people prepared to tackle society's most intractable problems; people prepared to solve not only the problems that are in front of us today but the problems that will be in front of us tomorrow — the ones that we don’t even know exist. These are the people who know the difference, as a great friend and colleague of mine likes to say, between real solutions and false posturing; between logic and a logical fallacy; between deep beauty versus surface ornamentation.
So, as you graduate from this institution, remember these things, and remember why you made the choices you did. Remember also — and this is the really important part — that it’s your responsibility — your solemn obligation, in fact — to articulate your values to those in the society around you. No matter what you do with your degree, no matter what career trajectory you take, it is your responsibility to find a way to explain to our society the value of an education in the arts. Don’t let anyone, including those in the political class, take the easy way out and make the facile argument, or perpetuate the fallacy, that those with an education in the STEM disciplines make a greater contribution to the market society in which we live. Just because it’s harder to quantify the work we do and the products we produce with a clear dollar value doesn't mean that that work and those products are not valuable in our culture.
On the contrary, I say, and I want you to say it with me: the arts change lives. They changed mine, they changed yours and they can change others. Read your American history: it is a fundamental principle of Jeffersonian representative democracy that the arts, and an education in the arts, are absolutely essential to the functioning and to the future of our society, our culture and our very way of life. You made the bold choice to invest in that belief when you chose to become an artist. Now that you’re graduating, don’t stop being bold. This is not the end; this is a “commencement” — and there’s a reason we call it that. This is only the beginning. So go out and start changing lives.
Congratulations on a job well done.