While I was writing what I wanted to say on this memorable day, I tried to make my speech humorous, but for the life of me, I couldn’t do it. Instead I decided that my goal would be to make at least one person cry. Or maybe to have all the mothers cry to the point that their mascara starts to run down their faces.
First, I would like to ask everyone here one question. “What makes Art and Design so special?”
For me, it came down to three things:
1. The city
2. The people
3. The art
Unlike the majority of my fellow graduates, I started my sophomore year at the High School of Art and Design as a transfer student after moving from Washington D.C. to New York. Now many may ask, why? Why did you move all the way from Washington D.C. to attend the High School of Art and Design?
We are extremely privileged to have been able to live and to attend school in one of the most influential cities in the world. One of the main reasons my family moved to New York was because of the endless amount of opportunities New York has to offer. As art students, we had the privilege to visit as many museums, musicals, exhibitions, and street performances as we’d like. Going to Art & Design allowed me, allowed us, to be exposed to all of this culture, all of the time. I didn’t always appreciate this as a student, but looking back, it has greatly influenced my perception on society, my art, and me as an individual.
Now, the people. The people at Art and Design are ... unique. My fashion teacher, the fabulous Mr. Osborne, once told me to “Always surround yourself with people who are inspiring.” The people at Art & Design are definitely that. This is definitely not the average high school. Only at Art and Design do you see students who change their hair color at least three times a month or who have twice as many piercings as the average person. Only at Art and Design do you find Illustration majors who pull all nighters to finish an entire painting the day before it’s due. Only at Art and Design do you find Graphic Designers who notice how hideous certain fonts are on business cards or on some poster they saw on the train. Only at Art and Design do you find Fashion Designers cutting and sewing endless amounts of garments or even pulling off an entire fashion show. Only at Art and Design do you find Film students roaming around the hallways filming an extravagant piece of work that makes Harchol say, “fiiillmakers”. Only at Art and Design do you find a Cartooning and Animation major, or hear a Mr. Klien say “that’s offensive!!”. These are the people at Art & Design, people who are inspiring, creative, passionate, and determined, and it is because of this that we are going to be more successful in life. Mr. Osborne was right. We just don’t know what the future holds and it’s scary, but if we just surround ourselves with inspiring people, we will only grow stronger as individuals.
And lastly, the art. While many of us have different interests or majors, we all have one thing in common: our love of art. In my college essay I wrote, “I have a superpower. As a designer, I have the power to see beyond the average human eye, to notice the overlooked, and to interpret society. It’s a fascinating power…”
However, as I am standing in front of all of you, I realized that actually, we all have this superpower. That’s what makes us true artists, thinkers, inventors, and dreamers. We are all great artists. We’ll go on to do very different things. Some of us may follow our current majors. Some of us may pursue an artistic path that differs from our major And some of us may end up pursuing a different field entirely. But, no matter where our lives take us and what paths we all take, we will still be artists at heart and have a superpower that no one can ever take away from us. Everybody here was someone else before and today, we are leaving here as that person; mature, innovative, and fearless.
Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. I came to New York with an impossible and unimaginable dream, but here I am going to graduate with my fellow graduates. But if there was one quote that could sum up what I learned at Art and Design, it would be, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,” by Winston Churchill.
So, follow the path unfollowed, take risks, believe in the impossible, pursue your dreams, and most of all be happy.
Nicole Lee is the 2015 valedictorian of the High School of Art and Design on E. 56th Street. This is an edited version of her commencement address.