Giving Good Weight: Building Relationships for a Resilient World

Introductory Remarks by Tom Manley at PNCA’s 2014 Commencement Ceremony

Welcome to you all and to our honoree and speaker, Spencer Beebe, and to the members of the talented PNCA community—Governors, faculty, staff, alumni and students.

Congratulations to the Class of 2014 and to your parents, families, friends, and mentors who have supported you in your journey to this day.

Most recently I suspect that journey hasn’t included much sleep, so I thought a small dose of a once controlled miracle drug might help. It’s amazing you know you can now buy it in shops right by the school? I can see some of the family members craning their necks to see from the back—so let me reassure you they’re boxes of chocolate and, no, Forest Gump impersonations, please.

So, Graduates, in addition to officiating over the ceremony and shaking hands delightedly with each of you, I’ve come to view my job at Commencement as the person who must first acknowledges that you may be worried about what happens tomorrow and then reassure you, in the immortal words of our own Linda Kliewer, found on all thesis defense podiums at PNCA: YOU’LL DO GREAT.

And you will do great. Not instantly or on every occasion, of course, but over time and in ways and in domains that may surprise you. What is the basis for our optimism about your future? It comes from an alignment of the creative education you have claimed here with your hard work and the guidance of great teachers and the requirements that an extremely complex future will demand of you.

Our mission has been to prepare you for a life of creative practice with an expandable repertoire of tools, skills, knowledge and experiences that will enable you be effective in many different settings and under many different conditions.

You came to PNCA already with a disposition to be agents of creativity, in some cases having to survive educational and social systems that act to suppress and punish the uses of imagination and diversity of expression. Here you acquired and practiced habits of critical and studio thinking— capabilities to observe, envision, think, play, collaborate, experiment, fail, problem solve, iterate, prototype, stand in ambiguity, contextualize, pivot, make, and reframe. Here you formed relationships and networks that if, tended, will grow and strengthen through out your lives. Here you participated in the powerful pedagogy of critique, a process that you might continue to draw upon and adapt to new circumstances. Here you strengthened highly human skills such as caring, creating, and taking responsibility; skill that enable collaboration and cooperation and cannot be outsourced or automated. Here you demonstrated a capacity to recover from setbacks, persist and even thrive amid disruption, in other words, you showed resilience.

How does your preparation for the practice of creativity line up with the demands of a world of fierce challenges? First, it is adaptable to the requirements of a new economy that is emerging around relationships, networks, and collaboration. Second, it plays directly to the recognized value that creativity and its allied processes, innovation and entrepreneurship, are bringing to fields within and beyond the arts. We know that creativity is found in every person and every field of human endeavor, but as an educational outcome it is cultivated most purposefully in places like PNCA. And, finally, your creative preparation contributes directly to your ability to maintain continuity even as you seek to adapt to and influence the rapid change that surrounds us. Taken together these attributes are essential to giving you the grit and buoyancy to persevere and succeed through out your lives.

But just because we have confidence in what we have taught you and how you will use it, we are not prepared to send you off with just a piece of chocolate and a well earned diploma. Rather, we see our relationship with you as something like Donne’s compass in A Valediction Forbidding Mourning. Where ever you stretched to go you will always have point of grounding here.

When you do come home we will be here to support you with excellent resources like BridgeLab, (developed by PNCA Collaborative Design MFA graduate David Laubenthal and announced at last year’s commencement and launched just this past year). For our guests, BridgeLab supports current students and alumni to span the gap between college experience and creative professional practice through mentorships, workshops, coaching in business and legal basics, entrepreneurial skills, and networking. It is the regions first ever incubator dedicated to art, design and creative practice, a place where students can get assistance in how to grow their ideas as they invent their futures…and ours. It is bridge for them into the world and bridge that brings them back.)

Back to new alumni programs that will allow you to reengage and refresh the creative preparation you have undertaken with us for very nominal or at no additional cost to you. This is part of a Value Proposition we developed earlier this academic year that is grounded in the belief that our relationship with you and yours with us is an enduring partnership, an ongoing exchange of learning and support, where we each commit to the principle (introduced in a wonderful collection of stories by John McPhee) of “Giving Good Weight.”

On Friday a faculty member, in Math, stopped by my office for a visit. Over the years he has been splitting his time between PNCA and another (non art) school. In the course of our conversation I asked how he liked teaching at PNCA and his face lit up.

“In my non-PNCA classes,” he explained, “it would be exceptional to have more than a couple of out of the box thinkers in a class of 15 or 25; at PNCA everyone in my class thinks about and sees the world differently.”

In my time at the College I have heard stories like this many times.

So, today I not only want to congratulate you for what you have accomplished with us, but thank each of you for the singular privilege of learning from and with you during your time at PNCA. That is a sentiment that I’m positive is shared widely across the College by your faculty, staff and fellow students.

Thank you and thank you all.

 

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