Here’s What Art School Graduation Looks Like During a Pandemic

Over the weekend, ArtCenter College of Design hosted its first-ever digital ceremony for 200-plus students

Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design—which counts big-name artists including Doug Aitken, Sterling Ruby, and Mark Ryden among its alumni—typically holds its graduation ceremonies at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, along with a show of students’ work at Pasadena Convention Center. With a pandemic afoot this year, the legendary art school’s administration had to get creative.

Last weekend, ArtCenter hosted its very first digital graduation in the most well designed way: it congratulated 270 students via Zoom by having the faculty each address them, then calling all of their names while showing digital examples of their work. At the end, the school brought viewers into the homes of various students, some watching with parents, some with friends, and others with fellow students. One danced spontaneously. Another was doused with confetti by her parents.

The proceedings kicked off with an address from ArtCenter’s president, Dr. Lorne Buchman, who posed a question about life in the time of coronavirus: “What happens to the human spirit in moments like this? What does it say about the connection between uncertainty and creativity?” He pointed to Brené Brown’s bestselling book and widely watched TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, citing her tenet that “collective vulnerability can bring out the best in people.” He also invoked Viktor Frankl’s bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning, which considered that the space of uncertainty is a space of creativity. “We make to know,” Buchman offered. “Artists will lead us in our search for meaning. I’m eager to see the future you will build. We need you.”

Afterward, graduates, families, and faculty were all invited to go to view all the graduates’ work online rather than in person.

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