Pulitzer Prize-Winning Broadway Composer Tom Kitt Delivers Keynote at 138th Commencement

May 10, 2016

‘Next to Normal’ writer tells the UArts Class of 2016: ‘Every day, do something for your art’




Composer, musical director, conductor, arranger and musician Tom Kitt [above] delivered the keynote address at the University of the Arts' 138th Commencement ceremony, held May 10 at the University’s Merriam Theater on the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia. The Pulitzer, Tony and Emmy award winner also received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts (HDFA) degree from UArts President David Yager [below, right], who presided over the celebration. This was Yager’s first commencement ceremony as the University’s new president.


“We are all artists. It’s something that we share. It's a special thing to be an artist,” Kitt told the Class of 2016. "My mind is always racing about what is next and what I'm currently doing and what it means to me and and what it could mean to the world. And a wonderful theme that's been talked about today is the world and how much it needs artists. How much you are so needed to tell the stories that need to be told.” He also advised the soon-to-be graduates to do something every day for their art and to “try to put your phone down as much as you can.”


Also receiving an HDFA was longtime UArts Board of Trustees member and former chair Ronald J. Naples. Current Board of Trustees Chairman Jeffrey A. Lutsky presented Naples with the honorary degree.

Other honorees included Silver Star Outstanding Alumni Award recipients Fredric Snitzer BFA ’73 (Sculpture), owner of Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami and an Art Basel selection committee member, and UArts Associate Professor Kim Yvonne Bears-Bailey BFA ’84 (Ballet) [left], assistant artistic director of innovative dance company PHILADANCO.

College of Performing Arts graduating senior Nia-Samara Benjamin ’16 (Acting) [below, right] delivered a moving valedictory speech, telling her fellow graduates, “People say we're crazy for going to school for art. I say we're the backbone of humanity. Thank you for sharing your hearts, your minds, your lives, your talents with me.” Alumni Council and Board of Trustees member Judson Aaron BM ’81 (Saxophone) welcomed the new graduates to the Alumni Association.


Four students received the President’s Award, which recognizes students who have demonstrated academic and artistic excellence of the highest order. This year’s winners are Harrison R. Bodenstein ’16 (Composition), Gabriella Bottoni ’16 (Writing for Film + Television) Kathleen Greco BS '79 (Industrial Design), MFA '15 (Studio Art) and Rebecca Kolodziejczak ’16 (Craft + Material Studies) [below, left]. 

Bodenstein and Kolodziejczak also each received an Academic Achievement Award medal, given to the highest academically ranked student within each college who has exemplified dedication, discipline and excellence.


Provost Stephen Tarantal announced the winners of this year’s faculty awards, which included School of Music Associate Professor Elizabeth Sokolowski, who received the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award; Graphic Design Associate Professor Chris Myers, who was named the Richard C. von Hess Faculty Prize winner; Liberal Arts Adjunct Professor Larry Loebell, who was the recipient of the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award; and Illustration Adjunct Associate Professor Thomas Leonard, who received the Cynthia Iliff Koehler Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Highlights of the 138th Commencement ceremony included stellar performances by the UArts "Z" Big Band and graduating Vocal Performance majors, who brought the crowd to its feet with spectacular renditions of "America the Beautiful" and "With a Little Help from My Friends." Irresistible samba troupe Alo Brasil (above) closed the ceremony by leading the new graduates and their families back to Hamilton Hall for a post-ceremony celebration.