I just attended my first graduation at the Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA). The 207 graduates of the class of 2018 put on a 3-day extravaganza of visual arts, filmmaking, creative writing, chamber music, orchestral music, composition, singer-songwriting, opera, theater, choirs, jazz, piano recitals, dance, musical theater, and comparative arts. And, in the case of the eloquent and moving student commencement speaker chosen by audition, "Becca," from California, public speaking. In the post-ceremony clamor, I heard scattered remarks like, "...free ride to Juilliard" for Joshua McClendon, an African American cellist whose mother from Detroit was beaming with pride.
Knowing accomplishments of the graduates from the previous 55 years of the IAA and the quality of the 150 faculty and staff members, I wasn't surprised by the high level of performance. What did surprise – even astounded – me, was the diversity of the graduates. Teenagers from most, if not all, states and dozens of countries come together (marooned under 14 feet of snow as they like to remind us) for 9 months of as many as four years. Among 44 international students were those from Peru, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Cuba, Denmark, Mexico, China, Turkey, Venezuela.
Among nine piano majors, all but one African-American from Florida and one South Korean student, came from China. All were so ferociously good that many Americans, as I was, starting piano lessons in the 3rd grade, will probably be left far behind. Yung-Yi Chen, from Taiwan, thundered effortlessly through a section of Liszt's Années de Pèlerinage, no doubt as well as the composer ever played it, clad in black leather, including tails, to set the atmosphere of a typical Lisztian event (or a Hell's Angel dressed for the Met Opera Gala). Alas, he had not arranged for any winsome classmates to throw intimate items of clothing onto the stage. But a strong tradition puts students in the audience who whoop and holler at the end of every performance by their peers. The class seemed oblivious to any ethnic or racial differences among them.
At the 2018 Commencement, new President Trey Devey eloquently summarized the benefits of an "Arts Education" for the graduates.
1. "Through your time at Interlochen and your training as an artist, you have developed the capacity to see deeper and more clearly than most. Use your artistic perspective to create understanding, find meaning, and reveal connections not yet revealed.
2. Don't unnecessarily limit your limitless potential. Consider yourself more broadly and quite simply as an artist. Use your artistic perspective to see more deeply and with greater clarity to appreciate the inherent value in yourself and the inherent value in others. See beyond the superficial. Whether your path is in the arts or you use your creative capacity in a different field, your artistic perspective is what really matters.
3. Use your artistic perspective to see more deeply and with greater clarity to recognize those beautiful moments of serendipity that might take you in a different direction, one you might have never imagined. There is great opportunity in happy accidents and chance meetings. There is also great opportunity in failure. As you write your story, keep your mind open to stories yet untold that can reveal exciting new paths and opportunities."
I can't think of any better start for a generation upon whose shoulders the destiny of our planet rests.