Celebrating Community at RISD Commencement 2023
PROVIDENCE, RI – June 7, 2023 – Spirits were high as the RISD community celebrated Commencement Weekend 2023, the 140th such celebration in the institution’s history. From the opening remarks by alumna and Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf Visionary Award Winner Julia Rothman 02 IL to a series of community breakfasts bringing together international and first-gen college graduates to Friday’s graduate hooding ceremony and Commencement itself, a clear message came through: community is everything. As senior class speaker Sofia Di Lodovico 23 ID put it, “RISD has given us the power to create, but it is our responsibility to use that power to connect with the people around us.”
Board of Trustees Co-chair Ilene Chaiken 79 GD/P 18—a pioneering creator, showrunner and executive TV producer—tapped into the importance of community in her graduate hooding address. She reflected on her beginnings in the entertainment industry and her coming-out experience, which compelled her, she explained, to deeply examine herself and defy the assumptions of everyone around her. “What is our purpose as artists,” she asked, “if not to challenge, provoke and inspire the people around us?”
President Crystal Williams, who also spoke at the graduate hooding ceremony, reminded RISD’s graduate class of 2023 to mark the occasion with care. “Each of you is at a moment of great transformation with the freedom to say, think and make who you are manifest,” she noted. “I cannot wait to see how you make this world a better place.”
The following morning, 531 undergraduate and 278 graduate students danced to the beat of the Extraordinary Rendition Band before finding their seats inside the Amica Mutual Pavilion. “You, the class of 2023, are 809 strong,” said Williams. “You speak 44 languages and hail from 38 countries and 42 US states. You are the very definition of a global art and design community.”
A hush fell over the crowd as graduating Brown|RISD Dual Degree student Sherenté Mishitashin Harris BRDD 23 PT offered a land acknowledgment in English and Algonquian, welcoming the community to the homelands of the Narragansett people. Next to take the podium were graduate student speaker Diana Sánchez Barrios MFA 23 DM and senior class speaker Sofia Di Lodovico 23 ID, who offered their classmates words of inspiration. “I’m here today to talk about voices and dreams,” said Sánchez, a native of Colombia. “Many of us come from countries in which it is dangerous to raise our voices and, still, we dare to dream.”
President Williams and Provost Anais Missakian 84 TX went on to award honorary degrees to visionary designer and educator Walter Hood and internationally acclaimed artist and RISD alum Do Ho Suh 94 PT before NPR reporter Ari Shapiro stepped up to present the keynote address. Famous for his work as host of NPR’s All Things Considered, Shapiro confessed that his post-college application for an NPR internship—along with every other application he submitted at the time—was rejected.
“It is easy to look at successful people and conclude that their success is the absence of failure, when actually that could not be further from the truth,” he noted. “Every successful person I know has failed along the way—multiple times. Failure is part of the process.”
Shapiro also spoke about the importance of empathy and artists’ unique ability to visualize change. “Particularly in challenging times, the artist has the power to create new realities,” he said. “You have the power to help all of us see the world through different eyes.”
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