Friday, May 20, 2011

MassArt Commencement Remarks

Graduates processing in

Me giving my remarks (photo courtesy of Hunter O'Hanian)

I was honored to give the "Charge to new alumni" at MassArt's commencement today.  It was about all I could do to hold back my tears throughout the entire ceremony.  I have such love for MassArt and am so proud to be an alum.

Here are my brief remarks:

Welcome, class of 2011.  Congratulations on making it to this day after 4, 5, or 6 years at MassArt.  It has undoubtedly not been easy, but you have learned skills here that you will use for the rest of your creative careers.  I remember my own graduation day, feeling incredibly proud of what I had accomplished and also nervous and uncertain about what would come next. 

As you all know, choosing to be an artist is an act of faith, an unwavering belief in yourself and your voice.  You wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t feel like you had something to say, a way to contribute creatively to the world around you.

Over the past few years, your creative vision has been nurtured.  You have been surrounded by a group of peers and faculty who have pushed you right up to the edge of your limits and then, quite often, beyond them, allowing you to prove to yourself and others what you are capable of.  Though I knew what an amazing place MassArt was while I was a student, it wasn’t until I began working as an artist that I truly realized what a solid foundation I received and how critical that foundation would be to my career and my work.

There are a few things I wish someone had told me.

The first is that it’s not going to be easy, but it is certainly going to be worth it.  As artists, we get to create our own rules and forge our own paths.  As heroic as this sounds, it is also challenging and means that at every point in our lives we have to evaluate what we want, who we want to be in the world, and how to get there.  At times it will seem insurmountable, but if you made it through four years at MassArt, you know that you can do anything you set your mind to, no matter how outside of the box or seemingly impossible it may be.

Second, you don’t have to go it alone.  Though you are ending your time as a student, you are now part of a wonderful group of MassArt alumni, a network that is extensive and welcoming.  If there is something you want to know, there will always be an alum that you can ask.  MassArt alums are in every field of work, all across the country and the world.  I got my first job after graduating through a fellow alum, and several years later, when I was in a position to hire, I hired from MassArt.  MassArt pride and loyalty runs deep.  Take advantage of it.  Being an artist is often a solitary practice, but nobody gets where they want to be on their own.  Help your fellow artists and they will help you. 

Third, break the rules.  There are always going to be people who tell you that you can’t do something, or that there is one way to do it.  I would imagine by now you know this not to be true and I hope you stay strong in that conviction.  I am thankful that my time at MassArt instilled in me a solid desire to achieve my goals my own way, not by following someone else’s path, and an unwavering belief that it is a journey worth taking.

Lastly, and most importantly, make the work you need to make.  One of my professors told me, “If there is a question inside of you, say yes.”  His words play over and over in my head, far more often than I could have anticipated.  Every time I am faced with an uncertain situation, I hear his voice and it has literally kept me walking forward towards what I really want when my instinct is to turn around and take the easy way out.  The same professor gave an assignment to photograph the thing that you are the most afraid of because fear, he believed, is a good indication of desire.  Listen to the voice inside of you, even if it’s scary, because that is where your greatest work will come from.  These two lessons have stayed with me and informed the way I approach my work and my life. 

As you prepare for the next part of your journey, know that you are not leaving MassArt, only changing your relationship to it.  Connect with other artists.  Reach out.  Ask for what you need.  Break rules.  Believe in your work.  Think creatively about how to make the work you need to make and how to make a living.  Collaborate with each other.  And most of all, take pride in the fact that you have studied, worked, and grown as an artist at MassArt.  It is a privilege and a badge of honor to be a MassArt alum.  Wear it proudly. 

Thank you. 


  1. beautifully said Jess! I wish we had such encouraging words last year (we had some bat shit crazy lady instead...) Congratulations on this honor to speak and it sounds like you did a wonderful job! You should be proud of yourself