MCAD Class Speaker, 1996

Journal - Sightings

Class Speaker 1996

Minneapolis College of Art + Design

Class Speaker, 1996


Got to pack warm clothes, I've been asked to be commencement speaker at the Minneapolis College of Art + Design's fall graduation -- which is in December. I'm not sure exactly what I want to say, but since it's exactly 10 years to when I was elected class speaker at my own graduation there, I dug up my old speech to see if anything inspires me to build off of.


A lot has happened in ten years, but I think I can safely say that the concerns I had at that time were all pertinent to what I actually had to encounter to get to where I am today. It's going to be fun to get myself back in the mindset of a student about to receive their college diploma and try to address the fears, hopes, and questions running through their heads.


It's going to be an issue, too, that none of them will know who the hell I am. I'm just an alumni who still does work with the school, but no one special in terms of notoriety. That's sort of a shitty thing they have to deal with. I'm going to have to prove myself and make sure they know I'm really devoted to being there on their special night.


Here are the words I came up with a decade ago...


I stand up here behind this podium, and look to everyone sitting out there in the theater. I think, on both of our sides of this ceremony, we all don't really know what to expect today. What actually is art school? What does it mean to become an artist? Even those of us who have first handedly aspired to become so, I think only have general ideas at best.

Some people attempt to make an insubstantial boundary between art and education as derived through traditional academic resources. But like the natural sciences, art is an expression of a progressive thought. I could say that every person on this stage is actually a scientist, because artistic expression encompasses both inductive and deductive reasoning. The structural principle of the Scientific Method. Distilled academe.

Before I cam to college, these issues didn't mean as much as they do now. For me, before college was high-school, and in high-school nobody knew who the hell they were, let alone were thinking what they were going to become. It was at this time, though, that the first insight to an artist's lifestyle was revealed to me. One day my art instructor - Mr. Jabavy - came prancing into class with an over-energetic smile on his face. He got all of our attention, stood up in front of class, and started to speak:

"I just saw the movie Thelma and Louse!"

He lost half the class right there.

"And you know what they said?"

Nobody answered.

"You get what you settle for!"

I must admit - at first these few and simple words of a mediocre hollywood movie did not resemble the type of wisdom that would be openly sung n the halls of Valhalla, but for some reason on that day those words stuck.

When we journeyed into art school we knew that our objective was not to receive a magical diploma that would one day grant us unconditional employment. We knew from the beginning that many of the people we knew personally, did not understand why we wanted to enter into what appeared as a lifestyle as volatile as that of the arts; but over all we didn't care. Our personal drive and ambition is what we would be marked up against to gauge accomplishments.

I was always told that my college years would be the best years of my life and that it would be the time to accomplish many things. So far, I feel those words were very accurate. What I cannot imagine are those same people who told me these things looking at the life that those of us on this stage have lead for the past four years or so and say it held true to their original ideas.

With every accomplishment comes sacrifice. What are parties, relationships, sleeping, eating...? They are all replaced with that personal drive. They become painting studios, computer labs, film sets, silk screens, darkrooms. But that is part of the role we are aspiring to be. Being an artist, it is innate that we all understand deep down inside - "You get what you settle for". It is important that we recognize the integrity, and the virtue of our goals. Without the artistic influence in society, progress would cease. The expression of artistic thinking communicates on all intellectual levels. Andy Warhol popularized. Pablo Picasso abstracted. Albert Einstein illustrated. All of these artists have at least one thing in common - they did not settle for less that that that would change the world.

When we take those last ceremonial steps to complete our graduation, we are not leaving behind and educational lifestyle as much as taking the initiative to apply it to the world where we must use it to survive. This survival is only another challenge we will face in our day to day lives. But we have made it this far, which is more to say for many people who began this journey just a few short years ago.

While we still ponder what art school truly is, I will take the time to recite this passage taken from a letter of John Adams: "I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons out to study... navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture..."

I predict that when I leave this podium that the common protocols will be followed and there will be applause... but I ask that when you applaud, that you do not applaud because there is a speaker for the class of 1996, but to applaud for the idea that there is a class to speak for.

- BILL! Rude

May 11, 1996