By Judith Schwartzstein, Vice President for Publicity, Sarah Lawrence College
May 31, 2017: Sarah Lawrence College conferred over 400 degrees in the commencement exercises of the historic college in southern Westchester County, just north of New York City.
One hundred fifty master's degrees were bestowed on Thursday, May 18, and 355 bachelor of arts degrees on Friday, May 19.
J. J. Abrams, world-acclaimed writer, director, producer of film, TV programs, and now a Broadway production, to list just some of his credentials, addressed the class of 2017 at his alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College.
Abrams connected well to the graduates, whom he had met the evening before to take questions and hear concerns as they leave a campus that has been their home for the last four intensive years of their lives. His personal, self-effacing address hinted at the sense of intimacy students and alumni feel about the small liberal arts college they share. His messages touched on the importance of gratitude, respect, humanity, and belief in the graduates' own accomplishments.
On gratitude, he said: "It's not just important to feel gratitude, it's critical to express it." And he suggested to his young audience that they employ the "antiquated" practice of writing thank you notes. "You will be amazed how meaningful that gesture is," he said. "To the person who interviews you or gives you a tour of grad school or your new office, it's not just manners, it's humanity."
Abrams spoke of his own family, particularly his wife, Katie McGrath, to impress upon the students the importance of finding and respecting one's chosen spouse: "Choose someone you're attracted to. Someone you come to love. And someone you hold in the highest regard."
Underscoring his frequently expressed concern for leveling the playing field, and citing statistics--only 11.2 percent of film directors are men of color, 1.3 percent women of color--Abrams spoke of the "disparity between what the world looks like and those who are generally telling the stories in Hollywood," saying it is both "preposterous and embarrassing."
"Regardless of your politics . . . taking care of each other, doing for others, helping to level the aforementioned playing field, fighting for what you know is right, not just for yourself but for those who might not have as strong a voice or station or college degree in their pockets, is not about being a Democrat or Republican, it's about being human. Our institutions matter, democracy matters, there is no better option. . . . It has always proudly been a progressive and creative environment. That means that a high proportion of the student body is artistic. And artists are, nearly always, the ones for whom being a kid wasn't so easy . . . but artists are usually artists for a reason. Observers on the outside because the inside didn't always present a door. To be surrounded by, to live for years beside, people inspired to create, to voice their opinion informed by their observations and struggle, is a gift that will last for the rest of your lives."
In conclusion, Abrams said, "While today is important, it isn't your commencement. It isn't your beginning. It's simply another beginning. Like it was going to middle school. Or getting your first job, or learning how to walk. . . . It might not feel like it, but that anxiety you're feeling right now is the same anxiety you've felt before, over and over again. . . . But while your fear is real and justified, so is the fact that you're standing on a foundation of your own accomplishments. . . . Life, I have learned, like any creative endeavor, is a leap of faith. The thrilling thing . . . is knowing that it just might work."
Pictured here: J. J. Abrams, commencement speaker at Sarah Lawrence College.
Photo courtesy Judith Schwartzstein, Vice President for Publicity, Sarah Lawrence College