CalArts students, families jubilantly celebrate graduation

Rose Marie Strasen, right, and Audrey Grace Stanton, left, sip champagne straight from the bottle as they wait for the 2017 California Institute of the Arts commencement ceremonies to begin on Friday, May 12, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Leaving the expectations of traditional ceremonies behind, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) graduates danced, jumped and ran across the stage at the school’s commencement ceremony Friday.

Held in the school’s outdoor Graduation Courtyard, the graduation was informal with some students opting for hand-made costumes, lederhosen and decorated dresses instead of the traditional caps and gowns.

California Institute of the Arts graduate Antonio Perez walks to his seat with his fellow graduates in a Mother Nature-inspired outfit that Perez says relates to his artistic work. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“It took a lot of hard work to get to this time, I want to congratulate all of you,” said Tim Disney, chairman of the CalArts Board of Trustees.  “It’s a bold choice to come to CalArts for your education, but the world is a better place for you coming here.”

The graduation ceremony began with the customary processional led by the school’s African Music and Dance Ensemble.

Students made their way through the courtyard, throwing glitter into the air and party poppers on the ground, as friends and families took pictures, cheered and gave flowers to the graduates.

One student, dressed as a Greek or Roman warrior, threw rose petals into the air and into the crowd, and another carried the train of one of her friend’s handmade dresses.

Parents, friends and families sprawled out on blankets to watch the ceremony while others stood and sipped on wine or sat with dogs in their laps.

California Institute of the Arts students proceed to their seats ahead of the school’s 2017 commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 12, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Each year the ceremony at CalArts is unique with different themes, performances and idiosyncrasies.  This year, the graduation’s theme was “Adventure Awaits” with a stage designed with a globe and lights shining off of each country and above the students’ heads.

“It’s my pleasure and my honor on the part of the deans and the faculty I represent to say to you all that you are so beautiful and you have never been more necessary in this world today,” said Jeannene Przybkyski, provost of CalArts.  “If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t know how to live in the world, we wouldn’t know how to make sense of it or make the truths we need to know.”

This year, hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students earned degrees from CalArts programs in Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music and Theater.  Students were presented with their degrees as a snippet of a song of their choice blasted through speakers in background.

“Thank you for making this place what it is.  We are the lifeblood of this institute and everyone who has come before us and everyone who has come after us,” said Jess VandenKooy, president of the Student’s Union who earned his master’s in critical studies from CalArts.  “What we do matters, it matters a lot… We’re going to go change the world.  We redefine CalArts every day. I can’t wait to go define the world around us.”

California Institute of the Arts president Steven Lavine smiles as he makes his way to his seat for the last time at a commencement ceremony. Lavine is retiring this year after 29 years at the school. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The school also presented two honorary doctorate degrees to Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Steven D. Lavine, CalArts’ president who is stepping down after 29 years at the institute.

Edgerton, who has four decades of experience as a performer and leader, offered words of wisdom to the audience of graduates, encouraging them to trust their training and experience in their studios to pursue their chosen artistic path.

“You have had four years cultivating your skills at CalArts.  You have a huge arsenal to draw from,” Edgerton said.  “Liberate your imagination and fill it with fearlessness for today, for tomorrow and every day forward.  I call on you to be the liberated artists you are.”

Following Edgerton, Lavine received his honoring degree for his nearly three decades of leadership and innovation at CalArts that led to the growth of the university, the recognition of CalArts worldwide and the establishment of the school’s Community Arts Partnership (CAP) and CalArts/Herb Alpert Awards in Arts.

“I’m so happy and proud to be here today,” Lavine said.  “Janet [Lavine’s wife] and I have loved our years here with you…. For me, CalArts will be the measure of what we humans are capable of if we dig or climb into the deep recesses of what this life is for.”

Lavine also shared the three most important things he learned during his tenure at CalArts.  He encouraged the graduates to not be afraid of any challenges, to be generous with people and to keep the faith.

“There is a lot to discourage us in this world, but the bottom line is the world needs you badly even if it sometimes fails to recognize that fact,” Lavine said.


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