fbpx Ariel Ronayne, Graduation Speech of 2023 — PCA

Graduation Speech of 2023 by Ariel Ronayne

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“Thank you President Jarvin,

Students, faculty, friends and family, I want to start by assuring you that these next few minutes will likely be some of the least nerve wracking for you, and the exact opposite for me.   

For those of you who don’t know me,  
Hello, I’m Ariel. A Communication Design student who has spent much of the last four years discovering all the joys and struggles that come with being in college. I am honored to get to speak to you, and I hope you’ll indulge me for a few minutes as I share my experience with you today.  

As far as I can tell, the business of graduating college comes with the unique position of giving and receiving advice. Giving advice to those who will come after and receiving advice from those who have come before.   

I’m well aware of the irony, and perhaps hypocrisy that comes with letting a 21-year-old get up on stage and attempt to dispense any kind of advice. What can someone who’s only just graduating college have to say about life?   

Well on this I will concede, you’re probably right; but while I might not know much about “real” life, I do know a great deal about school. Granted, school is not an exact approximation of reality, but I like to think mimics it in one regard, that being, the longer you do it, the better you tend to become. 

In school we’re asked to learn. To ask questions, and above all, to seek answers. Unfortunately for us, Life is rarely so simple, and if my small tastes of reality have taught me one lesson, it’s that contrary to school, in life you are not guaranteed answers to anything.  

This can come as quite a shock as after almost 2 decades of education, many of us have only ever been students. We’ve been trained to find solutions, to multiple choice questions, essays, or project briefs. We’re taught that for every problem, there is an answer. A right answer.  

I’m someone who likes to have the answers. Having been raised by an ivy league educated lawyer and philosopher turned computer programmer, you can guess how much I hate to be wrong. Whether being quizzed at the dinner table or scribbling notes in class, I spent the first 18 years of my life always knowing how to find the answers I needed.  

Of course, for our generation, answers have become increasingly easy to come by. By simply typing a question into a computer, we’re readily given a number of answers. Questions with simple solutions, and others we spend a lifetime asking.

Where am I?

Beginning in Foundation year, this is perhaps the question we ask ourselves most. Whether to Google maps searching for the metro, or on campus trying to find room -101.   

As a 19-year-old struggling to find my way around more than just Paris, what I could often deduce for myself was quickly outsourced to others as I realized I did not know as much as I thought. Navigating this new world of art school, we learn how to orient ourselves in a direction.   

As college students we are constantly told where we stand, either by virtue of a letter grade or in-depth critique, we become painfully aware of where we are, just as we come to find exactly how far it is from where we want to be.  

But if you make life about measuring distance you’ll probably always feel far away. Entering 2nd year, our questions transform from a simple assessment of location, to a more existential crisis of identity.  
Who am I?

This question haunts us for many years, and no doubt will continue to plague our twenties as we discover that people, like life, rarely stay the same for very long.   

If 1st year is about seemingly blind discovery, our 2nd year is about focused pursuit. We declare a major, which defines more than just our scope of studies but also how we’ve begun to understand ourselves. No longer quite as wide-eyed and bushy tailed, we feel the growing pains of existing in a state of permanent change.   

We dig holes we’ll spend the next few years climbing out of, breaking down so we can learn to put ourselves back together. Getting messy, getting frustrated, and ultimately emerging better for it. We stop relying on our teachers to tell us where we stand and instead start answering for ourselves.
As we transition into 3rd year we start to grasp who we might be, just as we get better at being that person. We begin to ask different questions.   

What do I want?   

For me, an only child by nature if not habit, this is a relatively easy feat on the small scale:  
Pink not blue.  
Scrambled not boiled.  
Serif not sans.   

But when we’re asked to order from a menu in which we have to live with whatever we’re served, that’s when the fear sets in. We realize there’s a world outside of college, the unknown, and we’re going to have to find our place in it soon. Like tomorrow. 

The problem with growing up is that you’re now expected to find practical applications for what may be seen as impractical vocations. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say this, but Art school is hard, one of the main reasons being that there’s never just one right answer.   

Rather than solving problem sets or writing essays, we work on projects that often have connections to who we are as people. The creation of art is an exercise in willpower as we attempt to bring the vision in our head out into the world. The answers we seek are no longer about right and wrong, but rather what feels true to us.   

Arriving at Senior year, we now confront what art means to us on a personal level. Facing creative fears also means facing ourselves, and we find that we still have something to prove. As peers and professors begin to ponder what our future holds, we realize that some questions do require answers.   

What comes next?

Unlike the other questions whose answers can change at a moment’s notice, in our final year we come into close contact with something we as young people are wholly unused to: Endings.   

In a world of perpetual sequels, we have very little context for what comes after, “The End”. Now that we’re considered grown, people start asking us questions, and even worse, expect us to have the answers.   

We think, when did this happen? Somewhere between standing in line for first year orientation and trying on our caps and gowns, everything changed.  

We struggle to grasp onto something solid as the ground beneath us shifts, we think of grad schools we’ve toured, jobs we’ve applied for, and apartments we can barely afford. Desperately trying to find an answer that might stick, we find that for maybe the first time in our lives, we don’t know how to answer. 

 I remember going on a tour of Père Lachaise earlier this year, a famous cemetery in Paris where many celebrated expats, writers, and artists now rest. It was grey and rainy, and the tour was almost canceled, but I’m so glad we went as it’s one of my favorite memories.  

Towards the end, I was walking with the guide, Barbara Montefalcone, the Chair of Liberal Studies, and ended up sharing some of my fears about the future. I went on and on about how worried I was and how much I wanted to get things exactly right.   

She looked at me, and I remember this very clearly, she said,  
Ariel, you know you’re allowed to change your mind, right?
For me, especially at the time, this was a revolutionary idea. 

In my haste to find an answer to what felt like an all consuming question, I’d forgotten a crucial distinction that sets life and school firmly apart. In life you don’t just get one answer to a question, you get many.   

I like having answers, but this year has taught me that I will never have them all. At its core, being a student isn’t about taking classes or getting A’s, it’s about engaging in the process of learning, no matter the subject.  

The challenges we’ve faced here are no less real than the ones we’ll encounter out there. If we can embrace this new phase as just the next chapter in a lifelong learning process and continue to ask questions, we might just have some fun along the way.  

I don’t think it counts as a graduation speech if I don’t include a quote, so I will close with this:  
“To live a creative life, we must choose curiosity rather than fear.”   

Graduation means closing the book on college, but not on our time as students. Get things wrong, then get them right, but don’t stop pursuing what inspires you most. More than anything else, it will lead you where you want to go.   

Much has been given to us these past four years. I feel so lucky to have learned from professors and peers alike, and I would be remiss if I did not thank just a few by name. To Lucrezia Russo, our fearless Communication Design Chair, Juliette Robbins, Thesis Advisor extraordinaire, and last but never least, Nora Link, my eternal partner in crime.  

 I’m immensely proud of all the hard work that has brought us here today, and I hope you will join me in celebrating just how far we’ve come.   

 Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2023.”