UArts Celebrates 144th Commencement, Honors Questlove and Aaron Dessner

May 25, 2022

On Thursday, May 19, University of the Arts celebrated its 144th Commencement, the first in-person ceremony since 2019, at Philadelphia’s venerated Academy of Music. A total of 467 students received degrees during the ceremony, including the inaugural cohort of the university’s PhD in Creativity program. During the ceremony, UArts also presented Honorary Doctorates in Fine Arts to two distinguished multidisciplinary artists: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Aaron Dessner.

Commencement marked a return to tradition, with the procession of students, faculty members, trustees and other honored guests led by three marshals: School of Film Dean Wendy Weinberg, who carried the presidential mace; Photography Professor David Graham; and Ceramics Professor Jim Makins. As the procession made its way from Hamilton Hall, Questlove took a moment to drum with Snacktime, the band leading the processional, and high-five young students lined up to attend an open rehearsal at the Miller Theater.

During his opening remarks, President and CEO David Yager lauded the Class of 2022 for its resiliency and adaptability, two traits he hopes they continue to embody throughout their creative careers. “In rising to face all of these unprecedented challenges, you’ve continually proven that artists are the necessary catalysts for meaningful change in our society and the betterment of our world,” Yager said. “I genuinely believe that your success is and will continue to be grounded in the ideals of creativity and innovative thinking. As artists, you must leverage your empathy, adaptability and keen understanding of innovation to alter our condition for the better.”

Jonai Gibson-Selix BFA ’22 (Graphic Design) echoed that sentiment during her valedictory address, during which she encouraged her peers to believe in themselves and transcend any self-doubt or fears they may carry.

Following Gibson-Selix’s address, seven students received President's Awards from President Yager. Each award recognizes a student’s academic and artistic excellence during their time at the university and carries a $1,000 prize.

  • Corey Seals BM ’22 (Vocal Performance) received the President’s Award for Cross-Disciplinary Excellence.
  • Gibson-Selix, the valedictory speaker, was also honored with the President’s Award for Outstanding Service to the Community.
  • Two President’s Awards for Excellence in Creative Practice were presented to Song Tucker BFA ’22 (Dance) and Li-Wen Kuo MDes ’22 (Product Design).
  • Lucky Marvel BFA ’22 (Film & Video) and Amelia Hoskins MA ’22 (Museum Education) received the President’s Awards for Critical Inquiry.
  • The President’s Award for Innovation was presented to Devon Thoms BFA ’22 (Photography).

President Yager also honored two faculty members for their outstanding contributions to the university. The Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award was given to Associate Professor Steven Saylor from the School of Film. Adjunct Associate Professor Dinita Clark from the School of Dance received the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

After a moving performance of “With a Little Help From My Friends” by UArts’ Transfusion Ensemble and graduating Vocal Performance majors, Professor Lowell Boston presented a Silver Star alumni award to Musa Brooker BFA ’95 (Animation), whose work has been featured on MTV; The Simpsons; and the Michelle Obama–produced Netflix series, Waffles + Mochi. Next, Assistant Professor Tommie-Waheed Evans from the School of Dance presented a Silver Star award to Jeffery Page BFA ’02 (Jazz Dance). Page is an Emmy-nominated director and choreographer, who has worked with star performances including Beyoncé and Mariah Carey. Page is currently working on the Broadway revival of 1776 at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.

Jud Aaron BM ’81 (Saxophone) joined President Yager to present the honorary degrees to Questlove and Dessner. Questlove, a native Philadelphian, is an Academy Award–winning filmmaker, drummer, DJ, producer, director, culinary entrepreneur, six-time Grammy winner and New York Times bestselling author. During his remarks, he joked about being elevated to Dr. Love and encouraged the Class of 2022 to unearth new creative ideas in moments of silence. Dessner is best known as a founding member of the rock band The National and collaborating with Taylor Swift on the artist’s albums folklore and evermore. Dessner told the crowd about his experiences working with Swift, noting that if he had not been making music purely for music’s sake, it’s unlikely the award-winning collaboration would have occurred.

“The thought I want to leave you with is to embrace those moments of getting lost in your work, making your work simply for the joy and emotional outlet of it, and working diligently, passionately and courageously,” Dessner said.