Poet Nikky Finney and photographer Abelardo Morell give affirming addresses in lively Commencement
Saturday, May 17, 2014
After joking that she was responsible for the sunny and breezy May weather — in contrast to the gloomy hours leading up to the earlier ceremony for Lesley’s graduate students — Board of Trustees Chair Deborah Schwartz Raizes (Class of ’69) urged the graduates to stay involved with Lesley. View photos from commencement »
Then President Joseph B. Moore gave the undergraduates their charge for the future:
Chance and circumstance, he said, “will continue to play a role no matter now logical or rational you attempt to make your life story. So welcome the reality of chance and circumstance, even while you plan.”
Moore also thanked the graduates’ parents, “For your cajoling, your support, your understanding and your encouragement of your graduate.”
One newly-minted alumna took the message to heart, festooning a mortarboard with “Sorry it took so long, Dad,” a legend that spurred prolonged laughter when it was broadcast on the large screen adjacent to the stage.
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honorary degree recipient Nikky Finney was introduced by Assistant Professor in Creative Writing Aaron Smith. He praised Finney for her “sometimes painful but always transformative” poetry and for her overarching accomplishments as a writer, artist, activist, mentor and “seeker and speaker of the truth.”
Finney delivered a commencement address to Lesley graduates befitting of an award-winning American poet, replete with beautiful language and imagery. Using her descriptive language, she painted a picture of herself as a “sensitive child,” as her mother affectionately called her, who would one day blossom into a National Book Award-winning poet.
Finney reflected upon her “sensitive child” label and her apprehension at that time that it meant over-sensitive or thin-skinned. What she came to appreciate as she matured was that being a sensitive child would make her receptive, refined, discriminating and tender-hearted. She praised the so-called “sensitive children” of the world and encouraged those kindred spirits among Lesley’s Class of 2014 who are “pushing the good world forward.”
She cautioned that we must preserve children’s sensitivity, which can be “chased out of them by homelessness, invisibility, hatred, or the narrow-minded world saying you are not acceptable… .”
“I knew the world would require an army of sensitive children if there was any hope of our humanity not going the way of the dinosaur,” she recalled from her childhood.
Finney wished for Lesley's Class of 2014 "the simple courage to be your genuine maverick sensitive-child selves."Watch Nikky Finney's speech.
Introducing the College of Art and Design’s honorary degree recipient, photographer Abelardo Morell, was faculty member Christine Collins. She called the speaker’s art “mesmerizing and magical” and “meditative investigations of everyday objects.”
“You challenge your students to be rigorous and invested in their work,” she said.
Morell joked that he had a difficult task ahead of him in the afternoon, as he took the stage after remarks delivered by Finney.
“Following Nikky is a tough job,” he said. “I’m thinking about walking away.”
Perhaps spurred on by a laughing audience, Morell talked of his first photographs developed in a darkroom in Brunswick, Maine. The native of Cuba (now a Brookline, Mass., resident) knew instantly that he was going to give up his pursuit of engineering in favor of his art, much to his parents’ chagrin.
“It helped that I flunked physics,” he said to guffaws throughout the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. “The world was now safe from my falling and uninspired bridges.”
Morell urged students to be aware of their vocations, which won’t announce themselves loudly, but as a “subtle deepening of self.”
“These revealing feelings always begin with falling in love,” he said. And then, as with any love relationship, the real work of art begins.Watch Abelardo Morell's speech.
Provost Selase Williams introduced Stan Trecker to bring on student speaker Matthew Cobb, a BFA in illustration. Before giving way to the new graduate, however, Trecker, who retired this year as dean but begins a year as dean emeritus, lauded all the College of Art and Design graduates.
“What a privilege and honor it has been to serve as dean for the last several years,” Trecker said. “This day celebrates your accomplishments as graduates and emerging artists and designers.”
Trecker added: “We value the place of artists in contemporary society. … We always welcome you back to the college at any time in the future.”
When he took the stage, Cobb showed he was perfectly in tune with the mood of his peers.
“Hey there, welcome to the party. You having a good time?” A prolonged cheer was the response.
He urged fellow graduates to take stock in the resources they have now before looking too far down the road to what’s coming next.
“There has been a lot of time, money, effort, and hardships spent on materials and making art and printing or framing or glitchy technology, and out there that’s just gonna keep happening,” he said. “But look around you. There are a lot of wonderful people here today. Your friends, family, faculty, and talented classmates.
“And when you leave here today, you’ll leave a lot of them behind and might never see them again. Now you might look around at some people and be like, “Oh thank God I ain’t seeing them again,” but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people you’ll miss too. I know that people here helped me a lot, and I’m not gonna have access to this many helpful creative minds again.”Watch Matthew Cobb's speech.
Earlier, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Mary Coleman said the Class of 2014 will go forward using their knowledge and skills responsibly and ethically as they make a difference in the world. She introduced one of those many students, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences student speaker Hallel Marx.
Marx, who is from Israel and emigrated to the United States six years ago, recalled the first time she came to the Lesley campus, which immediately felt like home. She had found “a world of passionate, accepting people,” even as a commuter student from a different country.
“My values were always encouraged and appreciated by those around me,” said Marx, who is a double major in mathematics and psychology with a minor in global studies. During her address, she encouraged her classmates to take the passion characterized by Lesley to make changes in the world.
“Please remember that today is not the end, just the beginning,” said Marx. “Stay curious, stay open-minded.”Watch Hallel Marx's speech.
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