MFA-IA Commencement Address
Goddard College - February 1, 2015
Delivered by Heather Bryce
I recently had the honor of being asked to deliver the commencement address for Goddard College MFAIA Program graduates. It was a beautiful ceremony and I'm so thankful that I was able to be part of it.
"It is an amazing feeling to be standing in front of you today, one year after my own graduation, to celebrate this incredible group of graduates who I’ve known since they began this life-changing program. Goddard College is a unique place and the individuals who choose to come here are extraordinary. This group is clearly no exception.
To the graduates, I’m honored to call you my colleagues and friends.
You are all talented, accomplished artists who have the means and ability to create positive change in your communities and the world through your art making and social engagement.
The graduates asked me to give this commencement address in three parts – which seems fitting - to me, this represents the many ways in which Goddard graduates (and particularly this group) carve their own path in the world and think outside the box. Because of this format I’ll be speaking three times, addressing the past, then the present and then the future. I’ll begin now with the past.
As the Admissions Counselor for this group I had the pleasure of being in contact with each of them during the application process and after their acceptance to the program. I had lengthy conversations or email exchanges with many of them.
Graduates, I’d like you to think back to the moment that you decided to apply to this program. Remember the excitement, uncertainty and questions you had about beginning this next stage in your life and making the decision to dedicate yourself to your art practice.
I remember many conversations centering around the questions “how does this self-designed degree work?” Or “what is a study plan and how in the world do I fill that part of the application out?” At the time it may have felt overwhelming and confusing but you didn’t give up and you’re now sitting here about to receive your MFA.
To quote Stephen King, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Think back to your very first residency, arriving on campus and suddenly being immersed in a new community and a new language. Take a moment to remember what that felt like and take a moment to think about how you’ve grown as an artist and as an individual throughout your time in this program. Think back to your first moments on campus; a celebration of welcome at the fire, your first study plan, your first packet response, your practicum, writing your portfolio and now this moment of commencement and celebration of once again entering a new stage in your life.
I wonder if some of the feelings you experienced when you began this journey two and a half years ago are the same as you sit here now about to join the academy.
Part Two - Present:
Well, here we are... Take a breath, look around and really see where you are right now in this present moment. Some of you have already received your degrees and the rest of you will soon follow. As you’re sitting here thinking you’re finished, know that really, you’re just beginning...
You no longer have packet deadlines or study plans to provide the catalyst for making work. Without that structure it can sometimes feel like you are once again a beginner and that you are making it up as you go along – which really, you are. For the past year I’ve put a lot of faith into the saying, fake it until you make it. It seems to work. Remember that not all the work you make will live up to your own expectations. When that happens, use it to keep pushing forward.
To quote Ira Glass,
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
What I take from Ira Glass’ words is that even when you make work that you don’t like or that doesn’t meet your personal (very high) standards, keep going. Whatever you do don’t give up. I’m sure that the past two and a half years in this program haven’t always been easy for you. I’m sure there were times when you wanted to give up but you didn’t. Take that same tenacity and spirit with you when you leave here into this new phase of your life.
From talking with many of you this weekend and attending your graduate presentations, the passion that you each hold for art making, social change, and creating community is palpable. It puts my mind at ease knowing that you will all continue to move forward ignited by that passion and excitement and make real and lasting change in your communities and in the world.
As Anne Bogart said, “It is easy to coast through life rather than find the will to continually reach out into the world. To reach out is to risk. There is little grace in a life that never extends out beyond the boundaries of self”. It’s clear to me that each of you has and will continue to take that risk. Trust in yourself. Remember that you already know how to do this. Remember that you are not an impostor. Remember your passion – that’s what got you here to begin with.
Remember that this community is still here for you – continue to collaborate with each other, support and inspire each other. Bring the magic of residencies and fireside conversations with you out into the world. Continue to question your own intentions and motivations and never be afraid to make mistakes – those mistakes have the potential to inspire growth and even bigger dreams and goals.
As you leave here, I challenge you to envision and create the type of community and world you want to live in. As Petra Kuppers, a faculty member in our Port Townsend, WA MFAIA Program said, “We need to dream the world we want to live in: we can’t just critique the status quo”
Part three - Future:
It’s been powerful to witness the change and growth that each of you has experienced during your time in this program. Some of you came here hesitant to call yourselves artists. You might not have been able to envision yourself at this moment, graduating with your Master of Fine Arts degree. I hope that each of you can now clearly see yourself as an artist. I hope that you can recognize the gifts that you have given to this community through your presence and through your presentations this weekend. Please carry those gifts out into the world through continuing to share your work, facilitating dialogue, supporting others in recognizing their own gifts and by standing up for your beliefs and against injustice. You have the power to change people’s perspectives and impressions through speaking your truth and making work that honors that truth.
Leo Buscaglia said, “The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give.”
I can tell you with absolute certainty that each of you has already impacted someone’s life through sharing what you have to give. I have been deeply touched by seeing your work, by your presentations and by my conversations with each of you over the past few years. I’m sure many people sitting in this room at this moment, here to celebrate your tremendous accomplishment, also have been inspired by you and have found their own voices and passions through witnessing and experiencing your gifts and courage.
In your presentations, many of you spoke of a turning point that you experienced during this program due to a conversation or collaboration. Know that you have also provided those turning points and breakthroughs for others, here on campus and out in your community. Whatever you do, keep going. Envision what you want and reach for it. Remember your impact because there is no question that you have one.
While today marks and ending, the exciting thing about that is that every ending leads to a new beginning. You get to decide what you want this beginning to look like, all the while knowing that your path from point A to point B may not happen the way you envision that it will. There will be grants that don’t pan out, jobs that fall through and moments where it feels like you are alone or everything is falling apart. In those moments, remember that you have everything you need within you, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You have all the tools you need to be successful and create positive change. Ask for help when you need it – remember that isn’t failure but strength. Keep pushing and, as Winston Churchill wisely said, “Never, ever give up”.
Graduates, congratulations on completing your MFA. This is a huge accomplishment and one that not everyone gets the chance to celebrate. You’ve worked hard and you’ve earned this. Enjoy this moment.
I’m thrilled to be here to with you today and I’m looking forward to celebrating the excitements, accomplishments and victories that are still yet to come for each of you. Each one of us in this room has faith in your ability to be great. In your ability to make this world a better place. Keep thinking outside the box, keep pushing others to venture outside of their comfort zone, and most importantly, keep speaking your truth through your words, actions and art practice.
I’ll leave you today with this quote from Neil Gaiman,
“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”