Neil Gaiman Headlines 134th Commencement

Award-winning author, graphic novelist tells graduates to 'make good art'

May 17, 2012

Above: Video of HDFA recipient Neil Gaiman addressing the Class of 2012.

Watch the full webcast >>

Award-winning author and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman delivered the keynote address and received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts (HDFA) at the University of the Arts' 134th Commencement, held May 17, 2012, at the Academy of Music on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts. In his first-ever university commencement address, he urged young artists to "make good art."

"The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and dance and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that's the moment you may be starting to get it right."

Read a transcript of Gaiman's address >>

Read Gaiman's interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer >>

Students head up Broad Street to the Academy of Music.

The day began with the joyous sounds of a New Orleans-style jazz band from the School of Music, which led the class of 2012 up Broad Street to the Academy, where UArts President Sean T. Buffington presided over the ceremonies (see video below).

Read a transcript of President Buffington's remarks >>

The theme of the 134th Commencement was courage. "The class of 2012 are the bravest people I know," said former Marine Kevin Wright BFA '12 (Writing for Film and Television) in his valedictory address. "Bravery is not always attributed to the artist," he said, "but it should be."

Wright, who did four years of duty before coming to UArts, earned a standing ovation with his speech. "Art tells us there is something in the world we can count on," he said. "Like courage we didn't know we had, it surfaces in a moment of crisis." (see video below)

Jeffrey Zarnoch BS '84 (Architectural Design), delivering the greeting from the Alumni Council, told the more than 500 graduates, "Be brave, tell good stories, count on your friends."

Longtime Philadelphia Inquirer editorial cartoonist Tony Auth was also presented with an HDFA. Christian "Patch" Patchell, professor of Illustration, presented the award, noting Auth's more than 40 years at the Inquirer and his many awards, including the Thomas Nast Prize, the Herblock Prize, "and a little something called the Pulitzer Prize."

Editorial cartoonist Tony Auth (center) receives his HDFA from Provost Kirk Pillow (left) and Board Chairman Ron Naples (right).

The Silver Star Outstanding Alumni Award went to two alumnae, Hilary Clark BFA '98 (Modern Dance) and Alina Wheeler BFA '70 (Illustration).

A dancer and choreographer noted for her work in the downtown NYC dance scene, School of Dance Director Donna Faye Burchfield introduced Clark, saying, "Her bold and fierce commitment to experimental and unknown territories within performance shakes loose the grasp of a history and allows for the necessary emergence of curiosity and openness."

Vocal Performance graduates perform "With A Little Help From My Friends."

Wheeler, a graphic designer and brand identity expert, is the author of the seminal textbook Designing Brand Identity. Polly McKenna-Cress, chair of the Museum Studies program, presented Wheeler with her award, calling her "a dynamic interdisciplinary woman who illustrates first-hand how influential a degree in 'the arts' can be."

Wheeler's 89-year-old mother-in-law, a graduate of Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, UArts' predecessor institution, was in the audience to see Wheeler receive the University's highest alumni honor.

President Buffington presents the Academic Achievement Award to Caitlin Kelly BFA '12 (Photography).

Three students received this year's President's Award, which recognizes students that have demonstrated academic and artistic excellence of the highest order. Emily Howe BFA '12 (Industrial Design), Adriana Lopez-Villareal '12 (Directing, Playwriting and Production) and AJ Luca BFA '11 (Instrumental Performance), MM '12 (Jazz Studies) were all recognized with this award.

Academic Achievement Awards were given to the highest academically ranked student within each college. Caitlin Kelly BFA '12 (Photography) represented the College of Art, Media and Design, while Victoria Lauren Zajac BFA '12 (Vocal Performance) was the honoree for the College of Performing Arts.

Professors Michael Rossman (Foundation), Ronald Kerber (School of Music), Benjamin Olshin (Liberal Arts) and Barbara Proud (Photography) received distinguished teaching awards.

Brazilian samba troupe Alo Brasil leads the new graduates back down Broad Street for a post-ceremony celebration.

Gaiman's speech thrilled the audience with funny and heartfelt advice to artists. "When things get tough, this is what you should do," he said. "Make good art. I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art.

"And now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for you being here. Make good art."

Photos: Dave Jackson

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