As we go on, we remember…

Aaand we’re back! Spring semester ended in a glorious sparkle of mortar board hats and streamer canons. For me, this folded into summer session 1, the blessing of a having an avoidant personality and a distaste for math. I wrote yesterday in my calendar that my real life starts after class ends on June 21. Here’s hoping.

As it has been awhile since I have posted, I need to break out the events of the last few weeks in a series of posts. But for those of you who know me, or at least follow this blog, I would like to answer the most pressing question of “what really happened at graduation?”

Finals week resembled most finals weeks of my collegiate career. I slept as little as possible, turned in final projects after completing them minutes before their deadlines, and drank gallons of coffee to accomplish all of this. Unlike previous semesters, my body demanded at least five hours of sleep a night. Perhaps I am getting old 🙂 I attempted to take an exemption exam on Wednesday and walked out the door to sign up for summer school. I got an extension on my thesis. What did I learn here? I am only human. 23 credit hours does not a holistically successful semester make. But all of the stress of finals week measured up to merely a drop in the bucket of how difficult it would be to see my parents the following weekend.

I was bestowed the honor of winning the Maurice A. Clay leadership award this year. It is given to the top graduate of each college every year and I was chosen for the College of Fine Arts. To say I am nothing short of humbled would be a lie. It was amazing to receive the award at the larger university ceremony a few weeks before graduation but I knew that the Fine Arts award ceremony would be the pinnacle experience of my undergraduate career. A few days before, my mother asked me when my speech was and I told her 2pm on Sunday. As my parents live in Georgia, they would need to plan for about six hours of travel to make it up here so the question was encouraging. A day passed and I received an email telling me they would leave around 9am… Now, my math skills informed me of this inequality so I emailed them back asking if they would be up here in time. Passive aggressiveness is a family value, after all. No response. I sent another email. Silence. Sunday morning I went about my day finishing my speech and running errands. At one o’ clock the phone rang. “We’re three hours out! See you soon!” Puzzled and crushed, I asked “were you doing something this morning? My speech starts at 2pm.” “No, honey. We did good to get up by 9am. We’ll see you later.”

Nice. I hung up the phone and hurled something inconsequential across the room. Angry man coping skills.

The day was breath-taking. I got everything together, printed off my speech at Kinkos and headed to the awards ceremony. I arrived to find that I was to be sitting on stage with all of the department heads and the Dean of the college. The ceremony kicked off and all of the graduates were recognized. As we progressed to my portion of the event my heart picked up a lively clip and my hands began to sweat. Smile, I reminded myself, this is your day. Finally, the Dean read my bio to invite me up to the podium. I sat in awe of all the things I had accomplished and had to honor with which to be involved in my time here. I rose and received the wrapped book they gave me for the occasion. I looked back and the Dean nodded to begin. My speech went a little like this:

Thank you, Dean Tick.

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been writing this speech for about two years now. It has been my dream to speak at graduation ceremonies since I started working for them as an usher here at the Singletary Center. I suppose now that I’ve graduated to stage manager I’m qualified to not work, but speak at this event. I promise not to drag on for too long. I know the sound tech will have no problem turning the mic off on me if I do.

In my second semester of my sophomore year here, I had the good fortune of enrolling in astronomy 192 – stars and the galaxies. While this class appealed to eight-year-old me, nineteen-year-old me became quickly disillusioned with the Cs I received in receipt of hours of memorizing formulae and star names. Ultimately, An act of God allowed me to end the semester with a B, but I remember little of the class other than a trip to the observatory. I will, however, never forget one interaction I had with the professor. One day, along with three hundred of my closest classmates, I sauntered down to the front of the room to pick up my most recent disaster of an exam. I realized that I had forgotten my student ID that the professor required for exam pick up so I asked if my license would suffice. Now, for those of you that know me, or are least my friend on facebook, you know that I haven’t always looked like the dapper young man who stands before you. My old driver’s license pictures a curiously female likeness of me which always required a justification when presented. I handed my id over to my professor and said “it’s me. I promise.” My professor looked up at me, responding, “well, of course it is. We wouldn’t be doing out jobs if you were the same as when you started.”

Boy, y’all did a great job on me.

While my colleagues and mentors have seen the beginning of my journey of becoming more of myself, my physical and social transition from female to male, we have all witnessed each other blossom into the successful young artists and scholars who stand amongst you today. And my, how far we’ve come.

Class of 2011, we started out as freshman, as first year graduate students, eager to jump into the rigorous pursuit of shaping of academic lives. We learned what it was like to co-habitate with strangers, to function off of ramen and red bull, to argue in a manner that got us high marks on papers and not in fights with our parents (but sometimes our professors). We discovered the difference between attending and engaging in class, that performances cannot be crammed for, that learning is not measured by grades. We practiced and practiced and practiced. We gave the performances and papers of our young lives.

Sometimes though, we tried our hardest and fell flat on the ground. But because of our classmates, and the faculty and staff who surround us today, we always had a hand extending to help us back up. I know that I am not the only one who can count their professors as vital support systems in their college experience. And now as we have walked out of their classrooms and onto this stage, as our friends. On behalf of the class of 2011 I would like to thank the faculty and staff for guiding us through our time here at UK. We could not have done it without you.

People say that we are the “me” generation but I beg to differ. In the arts, we cannot afford to be. As artists and scholars, as future administrators and teachers, we have been taught the stark reality of the state of the arts in the United States. And because of the training we have received at UK, I believe that we have the tools, the skills and the passion needed to thrive in the arts today.

In one of my arts administration classes this year, we discussed our fitness for the field as graduates of our program. One colleague of mine shared that she believed we young arts administrators have been trained in a climate where we have been told at every turn that we will never gets jobs because the arts hardly receive enough funding to sustain themselves, let alone us. As pessimistic as this sounds, she postured that this is our biggest advantage in our budding careers. Because we have been taught that we will have to fight for every position we desire and every dollar of arts funding we need, we have been trained as arts ninjas, gifted with the scrappy resourcefulness needed to thrive in, and revive, the most beautiful expressions of our culture.

I believe that this message spans all disciplines in the arts and I know that the class of 2011 has already proved my point. Many of the graduates here today have completed prestigious internships and young artists programs. We have presented our research at conferences far and wide, publishing in journals alongside strongholds of our fields when we often never thought we could. We have competed at home and internationally, coming out on top time and time again. We fried out our last nerves student teaching to children who remind us too much of ourselves. We have spent our time here as the face of the college of fine arts and in many ways – we always will be. But now we are graduating and emerging to make-up the face of the arts of the future present.

Now, why would we as young people, chose to enter a field that we have been told is so unstable? I believe that we have done so because we are fueled by a passion that drives us so strongly leaving us unable to do anything else. We believe in the music that flows through our veins, in the paint from our brushes that speaks louder than words. We have all been moved by the arts through arts education. How could we not continue to fight for that?

And while some of us will enter other fields, we will never distance ourselves from the arts that brought us here in the first place. Our training in arts disciplines will give us unique ways of approaching our careers and appreciating the world. They taught us how to smile in the face of darkness. And always, always to love.

Even if we leave the University of Kentucky looking the same as when we started, rest assured that we have all been changed for good. Through the long nights at the library and early mornings in the studio we learned what hard work means in the arts. We sang boldly and acted honestly. We taught children how to open their hearts to art like we were taught many years ago. Class of 2011, it is our job, and to borrow a line from the opera theatre’s recent production of Pirates of Penzance, our duty, to use our art forms to open the hearts and minds of others. The beauty that is in our world is magnified by the arts and no funding cuts can ever change that. Let us go out and become the next generation of artists and scholars, passionate leaders, life-long students. We will always be united by our love of the arts. Let us go out and inspire change.

I received a standing ovation. Life goal: check. My professors all came up to congratulate me at the reception following the event. My thesis advisor had me unwrap the book to reveal a source I needed for my thesis. Professors! I chatted and soaked up the moment until a phone call broke the camaraderie. “We’re here! Where are you?” probed my mother. “Still at the reception, why?” I refused to let go of the celebration and told them I would check back in after a drink with some friends. The action that ensued requires another post.

4 Responses to “As we go on, we remember…”
  1. J2 says:

    This was awesome. I was told that you did a fantastic job (unfortunately I was at a lunch with 18 family members. I would have LOVED to have been there.). I am so glad you posted your speech, it was AMAZING!

  2. Soniania says:

    you are incredible. wish i had been there!

  3. Sonia says:

    Also I don’t know why it says my name is Soniania..

  4. maddox says:

    Wow, congratulations! From having written to having endured plenty of graduation speeches, this is one of the best ones – it’s personal, global, true, encouraging, inspirational, and most importantly, not too cheesy.

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