Last month on Saturday, June 3, thousands of now-SCAD alumni assembled during the Presidential Conferment of Degrees ceremony for a morning of congratulations, personal narratives, and encouragement at the Savannah Civic Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. auditorium. Here are a few ceremony highlights that inspired the graduating class and the entire SCAD community.

SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace on the talent of the Class of 2017:

“I well recall the tutorial I received from some of you about the nuances of Humans vs. Zombies. I’ve been here with you every step of the way and I can say with absolute certainty that all of you are career ready. And your readiness will only brighten. Just look to our 98 percent employment rate as a beacon.”

Mike Buzzard, Google design manager, on forging his own career path:

“If you focus on doing great work and pushing yourself to grow and if you partner with others to make things far greater than you might make by yourself, you are certain to create all kinds of opportunities. And while you may not capitalize on all those opportunities, that’s okay. What’s important is that you create.”

Faten AlMukhtar, B.F.A. Advertising, 2017 SCAD Savannah Valedictorian, on why she chose SCAD:

“On an unexpected trip to Savannah with my mom, I saw a new piece of my future. It was senior year of high school, and SCAD was the first college that I had ever visited. Before our flight home, my mother and I stopped for tea at the Gryphon, and my mother, who is also an interior designer and knows a thing or two about creative energy, said to me, ‘Faten, you will make so much work here.’ She probably said the same thing to my younger sister who is now an interior design student here at SCAD and an ideal roommate.

When we were girls we often competed over what type of designers we would become. Fashion designers, interior designers, we imagined it all. I never thought we would both end up together at the same university. It is a comfort to know a piece of home is here with me. As a designer, I always follow my instincts, and I had a gut feeling my mother was right.”

John Malkovich on adapting as an artist in the real world:

“I wonder how many of you are nervous today, unsure of your next step, fearful of what tomorrow will bring, doubtful of your talents. When I was your age, I wasn’t at all sure of the path I had chosen. I had decided to join a few kids I had gone to college with and move to Chicago to start a theater company. Part of me, perhaps the bigger part of me, was quite certain this effort would be doomed to fail. I suppose it’s time for me to finally admit I was wrong as over 40 years after its founding in 1976, Steppenwolf Theater continues to flourish. And I’m not, by the way, encouraging any of you to go out and start your own theaters. Should you feel the urge, don’t hesitate to contact me and I can recommend a good psychiatrist and shrink. …

For theatre and film students and the writing students, here’s what I’ve used to remind me why I do what I do, but I think it can easily apply to any artistic endeavor. I compare theatre to surfing.  At a certain time you paddle out on your board and you wait for a wave but you the actor are not the wave. The wave is caused by the collision between the material and the public. Your job is to ride the wave. Sometimes you ride it to the shore, sometimes you fall off. The good material or great material as Falkner wrote, there will always be a wave. Trust that. Wait for it. Ride it when it comes. Work hard. Be prepared. Challenge yourself. Extend your range. Take and learn from criticism. Try and make better what you do every time you do it. And yes, learn to deal with failure. I wouldn’t say accept it, but deal with it and understand it will happen, and though failure may be your enemy, it may feel at times like your constant companion, but it can also be your teacher.” 

Written by Emilie Kefalas.