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SCAD Student Life

Inspiration to take away from the 2018 Commencement

Elena Burnett

On Friday, the first segment of SCAD Savannah’s 2018 Commencement kicked off at the Civic Center and featured an assortment of guest speakers and performances to honor the graduates. The following were some of the most inspirational takeaways of the ceremony.

A dream may sound crazy at its beginning but, eventually, will find its way to reality.

President Paula Wallace spoke about her experience founding SCAD. “In 1978, when I first told my family and friends about my plan to start SCAD, I didn’t sound brave. I sounded like a crazy person,” she said. However, as the university’s success can attest, her dream came true proving that “what some call wishful thinking today will be hailed as fearlessness in the years to come.”

You are in control of the environment you immerse yourself in.

Valedictorian and architecture graduate Nicolas Barrera Castañeda spoke about the rich opportunities built environments, both literal and metaphorical, can provide for the artistic and creative, and the great power that comes from the ability to manipulate them. He said, “I look forward to living in this improved environment we will create.” 

When you lose hope in the world, return to your art.

Dustin Yellin, a visual artist who works predominantly in glass sculpture and who strives to affect change throughout the world through art and education, was honored with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, the university’s highest accolade. He reminded the graduates that “in a world that is so divided social-economically, politically and religiously, culture seems to be our greatest glue that we can scale to tell stories to bring people together.”

There is no such thing as an overnight success.

Powerhouse actor, producer and designer Hilary Swank, who served as this year’s commencement speaker, reflected on the press branding her an overnight success after she won her first Academy Award. “Interesting,” she said. Growing up in a trailer park, “all I had to do was move thousands of miles to Los Angeles, get enough money to survive, get an agent and compete with thousands of other actors for very few jobs. Easy, right?”

She drove out with her mother with 75 dollars in their pocket, lived out of their car and cold-called agents from a payphone. Swank started to audition. “I had hundreds of no’s and almost no yes’s. I had no idea this overnight success thing could be so hard.” Finally, after several years, she landed a multisession acting contract on “Beverly Hills 90210.” “Unfortunately, it was in the eighth season of the show when no one was watching anymore.”

Then she got fired. However, two months later she booked “Boys Don’t Cry.” “Had I not been fired, I would have been contractually obligated to 90210 and I would have never been able to book the movie. It was a blessing to be fired,” she said.

“So…that’t my overnight success. Nine hard years. That’s one long night,” she said.

Pay attention.

When Swank was eight years old, she knew she wanted to be an actor when she performed skits. “When I was up there, I felt time stand still and every cell of my body came alive,” she said. “News alert: when you feel something like this in your life, pay attention. It’s the universe telling you are onto something.”

“Make a choice and then make it happen every single day.”

“Sometimes that may mean getting out of your own way, whatever that may be,” Swank said. “Your mindset, your fear, a seeming obstacle, a setback, whatever. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who’ve you’ve been or where you are now. All that matters is that you make a choice every single day to work toward your dream.”

Don’t assume curveballs are bad.

“Inevitable, the universe is going to throw some very ugly curveballs,” Swank said. “No matter what they look like, never assume any of them are bad. We all have our ‘firing from the eighth season of “90210”‘ moments. They will pass and after the dust settles, be on the lookout for the opportunities that are about to present themselves.”

“Ignore what everyone else is doing or what society is telling you to do.”

“Don’t let anyone tell you how something needs to be done for you to achieve your goals, including me,” Swank said. “Don’t worry about how fast or slow you are going compared to others. Speed doesn’t matter. It’s how present you are in each moment that matters.

“There are a million different paths to your end goal. Any path you choose will likely be full of ups and downs so choose the thing that brings you the most joy and that makes you feel the most alive. Then pursue that goal with all the grit, passion, and determination you can muster. Whatever you do, don’t ever give up.”

“Remember that none of your goals are worth anything if you lose perspective on your humanity.”

“This is the most important one,” Swank said. “At the end of it all, when you are lying on your death bed, what matters most is what is around you and that you are able to take comfort in the fact that you moved through life with grace, kindness, and integrity.”

Swank ended by wishing the following advice onto the graduating class of 2018:

“May your calling be clear and beautiful, may you have a deep well of grit and strength within you to pursue your goals, may your hardships be opportunities, and may you be shining beacons of inspiration and positive impact as you move throughout your life.”

Elena Burnett
Elena Burnett

Elena Burnett is the Editor-in-Chief of District. She's a writing major who will graduate in 2019.


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