May. 18, 2020


Dear Class of 2020 Graduates of the College of Fine Arts:

Congratulations on the monumental achievement of earning your college degree! This is one of the most significant accomplishments of one’s lifetime. I join you, your family and friends in celebrating this outstanding milestone. Our virtual graduation ceremony and tribute to you can be viewed here:

How will you make meaning of this turning point in your lives? We need to acknowledge that your education was disrupted the last part of this past semester by the crisis of the global pandemic. Moreover, we know that the effects of the Covid-19 epidemic may be with society for some time to come, just as you are going out into the world with your new college degree in hand.  

I would like to share some thoughts with you today about how you might start to look at the challenges you face also as opportunities. At this difficult time, strong resilience and determination will be essential skills to carry with you as you explore your future prospects. The silver lining here is that these attributes will serve you incredibly well for the rest of your lives. 

Never forget that you have rich talents and the capacity to work hard. These qualities will help you to accomplish the goals you set for yourself.   Be sure to have big dreams! 

Be focused about what you want – but also be flexible. It may be that what you hope to achieve will change and evolve. While it may take some courage to shift your sense of yourself, changing direction or trying out something new is actually an admirable sign of personal and professional growth!

Here are some ideas to frame the way you might think about the future.  In a Harvard Business Review article, “Design Thinking,” author Tim Brown writes about “A Design Thinker’s Personality Profile.”  In this discussion, he mentions five traits that help people enhance their lives: empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism and collaboration. It is quite useful to consider such concepts, and to figure out whether they can become part of a toolkit to help shape your artistic careers. How will you innovate during your lives?  How are you planning to contribute to society? In the book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein characterizes social innovators as: “people with new ideas to address major problems who are relentless in the pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take “no” for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread ideas as far as they possibly can.”  As artists, how will you spread your creative ideas, your artistic practice, your individual expression, your scholarship, to make a difference in the lives of others?

Many years ago, when I was a college student, the distinguished cellist Mstislav Rostropovich performed with the local professional orchestra one evening and the next day he met with students. I vividly recall a particular question asked of Mr. Rostropovich and his answer.

A student inquired: “Last night at the concert, how did you reach that very high note in the Schumann Cello Concerto?  It is so difficult.”  Mr. Rostropovich shut his eyes tightly and he answered with fervent feeling: “Because I wanted to SO much.” The way this great cellist responded to the question told me much that I needed to know about life. All these years later, I will say it is one the great lessons that I have learned. So much is possible in a life well lived, but you will need to set strategic goals and deeply want them to come to fruition. That feeling will help you find the motivation and the drive to do what it takes to achieve your dreams.

Graduates—I believe in you and what you will accomplish in your lives.  If ever I can be helpful to you, do not hesitate to ask.

I, and our entire College of Fine Arts, wish each and every one of you so well as you make your way in the world.

With warmest wishes and heartfelt congratulations to you, your families and friends,

Nancy J. Uscher
Dean, College of Fine Arts