MCAD Commencement Address May 14, 2016
I had the honor to address my Graduation Class of 2016, at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I’m humbled by the responses that I have received after the speech from parents, teachers and my fellow classmates so want to share it with the larger community.
Good afternoon everyone!
I’m Vedashree Bankar and I’m very honored, excited, pumped to deliver this speech at graduation. Before I start I would like to thank my parents, Aai and Baba, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to come to the States to study at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.I’ll also like to thank my friends and other family for their support.
So I would like to request everyone sitting here to take a moment to look around and make eye contact with a stranger. If you sitting in between your family you can look around to find that stranger. After you have made eye contact — hopefully not creepily — with give them a smile. Okay lets go! Even those sitting in the College Center — I see you. How did that feel? Strange? Awkward? weird? Exciting? Those couple of seconds are kind of how we felt in the freshmen year. But now look at us all! We are out here graduating! Doesn’t it feel amazing to be celebrating this moment with everyone here? Your friends and their families. It makes me so excited to think about how we all come from totally different backgrounds and grew up with diverse set of experiences yet we all share this very special moment of graduation ceremony together!
I’m an International student from India, so the feelings that you felt when you were awkwardly scanning around the room, multiply them by 10 times, that is kind of how it felt at times. Ordering food from the cafeteria is confusing because you don’t know how exactly all these billion cheese options differ from each other, you are horrified when at the check out counter at the grocery store the guy tells you “this costs 189.” You take a moment to stop sweating until you realize he meant $1 89 cents. Huuff. Let’s not even get into the conversion problems like pounds and kilograms, or kilometres and miles. Or this story which is my favorite, told by my fellow international student friend. My friend from China was walking on the streets of Minneapolis when a fellow pedestrian said, “how are you?” You know he was just being “Minnesota nice.” And my friend stopped, looked at him and went on and on about how he was having a bad day, and he is missing his family, and he isn’t doing well. The pedestrian looks at him so confused, made a face and walked away. But as we stay here longer we realize that even if you aren’t doing well, you don’t tell that to the stranger on the street. You just say “I’m doing good”, because he doesn’t actually want to know how you are doing even though he asked you how you are doing.
But it’s not always this stressful if you are an international student. It’s the best when people around you make an effort to make you feel included in their culture. I have so many amazing memories because of it, like my friend Sarah hid Easter eggs around school on my first Easter. My friend’s parents from Eu claire made me my first ever real cheese burger. Or, celebrating Thanksgiving with my friend ‘s family only to find myself napping on the table due to the food coma that followed after consuming all of that food. Or being here and celebrating Prince’s life with other Minnesotans, I cherish these moments. And feeling loved by my american family, Denise, Alaina and rest of the Baders to find myself, in a house with dogs and cats, while decorating Christmas tree when the house smells of freshly baked cookies. Or making friends that are going to last me a lifetime, even though I used to be initially confused when my friends would speak in a version of English that I wouldn’t completely understand. Even the Urban dictionary wouldn’t be helpful at times because I’m positive that Frank, David, Stephen make up their own words. But now my friends made sure that I understand the slangs, and they surely made sure that I do know what “turn up” means. Whoo-hoo.
I share this perspective on this day because I hope that the next time you meet someone from a different background you are more sympathetic to them, that we can together cultivate a culture which is open to new perspectives and thoughts and maybe though their help you can see your own country with fresh set of eyes. I hope that we embrace changes to learn and grow from them. Cultivating this culture isn’t going to happen in a day but we can all decide together to start making small changes. Small changes everyday like, trying harder to understand when someone with an accent is speaking with you, treating people as individuals and not as stereotypes or just holding the door for someone if their hands are too full. Empathy and generosity are going to help us all!
As I was writing this speech, I’ve been reflecting on the past four years and I think about what did we learnt in art school? How did we all change? I mean other than the fact that we look way different now maybe have more dark circles, maybe even have one side of our hair shaved off, or have beards, only wear all black. But what exactly changed? Surely due to MCAD’s intense program we improved our technical skills,like maybe we make pixel perfect designs,and we draw the beautiful comics, make we make great paintings but that isn’t all we learnt.
That is surely a part of it, but what IS THE most successful aspect of our art school education for me is that it has infused critical thinking in us. The way we look at the world around us has changed! Friends and family of the graduation class, don’t be surprised if your children are complaining about the letters on the posters being too close to each other, don’t be confused when they are wishing that the line on the poster was just 2pts thinner. Don’t be all that surprised after my warning today when they stop and stare at the most mundane objects like passing of the lights and shadows, to appreciate the beauty of everyday objects. Our art school education has taught us not just to question what happens in the gallery environment, but questions everything that we come across whether it is something on the internet, or in public spaces that lack gender neutral washrooms. I would egre you to try and embrace this perspective of critical thinking in your own lives when this newly graduating class raises questions about personal identity, social and political relationships, be proud of them when they bring this fresh perspective of raising questions to those around them.
Class of 2016, keep doing what you did in art school — make people question things that they wouldn’t normally because that creates an impact! Your work has potentially opened minds or connected people that wouldn’t before. I’ll like to share a quote by Tina Eisenberg who says, “Best way to complain is to make things.” And maybe in the future you would decide that you don’t want to be an artist, or a designer. And that is totally okay, but hold on to these values of being critical thinkers like thinking about those around you, irrespective of what you do. Hold on to what you learned in art school. Like Noam Chomsky says basic human instincts of sympathy, solidarity and mutual support are going to help us go a long way!
I would like to give a big shout out to the staff and faculty at MCAD for supporting us on our journey. Now it’s time to get outside the safe MCAD bubble and be the person that you want to be. I am so proud of this super talented class of 2016 for putting together an amazing senior show, and cultivating a multi disciplinary environment for us all to thrive in together. I can’t wait to see the amazing things you are all going to do! I sincerely hope that you do whatever it is that makes you happy. Remember this is just the beginning, we have brains in our heads and shoes in our our feet. We did it! Class of 2016 we did it!!! Congratulations! Wish you all the best. Thank you