05.15.21 | Dear Students: Commencement 2021

2019 CCAD President’s Commencement Address

Dr. Melanie Corn


Each year, CCAD’s President, Dr. Melanie Corn, delivers remarks to the graduating class of bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients as part of our Commencement ceremony. Find her remarks to the Class of 2021, delivered on Saturday, May 15, below, and visit ccad.edu/2021graduation for more.

Dear Students,

Today is the big day. The day you and your families have been anticipating for years. And I admit, it’s a day that probably doesn’t look quite like you may have expected, as we gather together virtually, in front of our devices, rather than on a stage.

But as you have become all-too-aware in the last year-plus, life rarely goes the way that we plan it. It bends and weaves, and gives us opportunities to grow, gives us opportunities to challenge ourselves, to find our edge, to see how we can improve ourselves, and what impact we can make on those around us.

I won’t pretend that watching me on the internet makes up for what could have been. But the nature of this ceremony doesn’t diminish your tremendous achievement, your hard work in getting to this day. You earned this recognition. I was glad to see some of you earlier this week, to give you your diploma in person, and while I wish we were together again at this moment, I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate all you’ve accomplished.

At Orientation, I often tell new students that there’s no better time to be starting their college careers in art and design. And, at Commencement, I often say, there’s no better time to be graduating. It may seem disingenuous to make those remarks year after year, but each year, I mean it. It keeps getting better and better, in terms of the job opportunities in the creative economy, the art scene here in Columbus, and the impact creative culture makers can have on the world.

But, this year is obviously different. You might laugh out loud, or at least roll your eyes, if I try to tell you there’s no better time to be graduating from CCAD. And yet. And, yet.

The Spanish Influenza has been on my mind lately. We heard a lot about the parallels between that 1918 pandemic and our current one early in the COVID-19 crisis, but lately, it's re-emerged as a point of conversation for what it might tell us about what comes next.

Some may say it’s too early to talk about "next" in terms of the pandemic—the light at the end of the tunnel is there as more and more of us get vaccinated, but it is still faint, with tight restrictions still necessary and many still working and studying from home. 

But, a Commencement is the perfect moment to consider what’s next. To commence, afterall, is to begin. Though Commencement celebrates the end of your time in college, it is actually intended to mark the beginning of your next journey.

And, as you commence, I encourage you to engage in the difficult task of staying focused on the needs of today while simultaneously turning your attention to the "next."

Specifically, my hope for our collective post-pandemic future here in Columbus, and across the nation, is that our thinking about the “next” will include ways in which we can all contribute to the cultural renaissance of a second "Roaring Twenties."

Historians argue that an eagerness to return to a communal social life after years of staying indoors during the Spanish flu contributed to the flourishing art scenes and cultural revolutions of jazz, Art Deco, Surrealism, the Harlem Renaissance, and so many other important moments and movements that dominated the Roaring Twenties.

Can we be so lucky again? Will a new cultural renaissance magically blossom once we all emerge from our work/study/stay-at-home lives? My prediction is a good news-bad news scenario. Let’s start with the bad.

Unlike a century ago, this time around we have a plethora of screens and isolating entertainment options that may keep us indoors longer than necessary and slow our return to a public cultural life. Though we may long for nights out, enjoying the arts with friends, we’ve all gotten quite proficient at making it work from the comfort of our couches—Zoom hangouts and happy hours, Instagram Live poetry readings and concerts, virtual galleries and game nights. And, sadly, without our collective return to life beyond stay at home orders and the active support we all provide for the arts when we patronize galleries, museums, concert halls, and cinemas, creative organizations and practitioners will suffer and the Roaring Twenties that would not only entertain us but employ us, inspire us, propel us forward, will not come to be.

So the question I hope our society will ponder is: how can we as a community not just hang on to the hope of a cultural renaissance just around the corner but actively manifest it?

And, that leads me to the good news. And, that good news is YOU.

Do you remember two minutes ago when I said that you might laugh out loud, or at least roll your eyes, if I try to tell you there’s no better time to be graduating from CCAD? I know that it may seem harder and scarier to be graduating into a pandemic, but you have an opportunity to lead the cultural renaissance that will inspire people to set down their devices and rejoin our communal life.

The college journey you just completed was like no other. The constraints of the pandemic were certainly challenging. For many of you, there were negative impacts to your studio and student experiences. But, there were also positives.

Over this past year, you developed an incredible agility in using countless different tools and platforms, you gained flexibility and an ability to innovate with materials, you became a better communicator and collaborator, you learned how to use your voice in support of social justice  and racial equity, and, hopefully, as you learned and struggled, you expanded your capacity for empathy, too, as you witnessed your professors, peers, and others in your orbit as they struggle as well.

All of these freshly developed skills—added to your existing technical and conceptual strengths of your creative practice—helped prepare you for the exciting and challenging time ahead. You have learned not just how to identify problems, but solutions too. The skills you’ve developed and the passion you’ve ignited will be instrumental in building a better, more just society.

So, will this be the easiest year to graduate from college? Certainly not. But, might it be the most rewarding? I believe so. There is no one I would rather see at the helm as we strike off into the uncertain waters of our post-pandemic future. There is no one better prepared to excel, to thrive, to lead our city’s—our nation’s—our world’s—next cultural renaissance and revolution.

There’s a good chance that you’ve had moments since early 2020 where you’ve hit a “pandemic wall,” so to speak. Where you’ve felt down. Stuck. Exhausted. Earlier this spring, when I hit my own pandemic wall, someone said to me, “We see what we seek.” It’s been rattling around in my head since then. I’ve been repeating like a mantra. We see what we seek. 

I take the affirmation as something more than a flippant “look on the bright side,” and I don’t think it intends to ignore the harsh realities we’ve been living through. But, if we seek out the positive—the innovative and creative—we will see more and more of it.

This is, after all, what creatives do. You are problem solvers. You are the seers. You see the opportunity and the possible. Your talent has been forged in the flames of pandemic adversity, and you have come out stronger, more ready to lead us all forward, out of the darkness, and into the light.

Class of 2021, you’re a class that I will never forget. And this is a time that you’ll never forget.  Graduating during a pandemic—even at what we hope is the end of a pandemic—is not fun.  It’s not what you pictured your college experience to look like.  

I’ve spoken today about the light at the end of this tunnel we’ve been traveling through. And I said that you will help lead us forward into the light. But that’s not quite right. You are part of that light. 

You are strong, you are connected, you are purposeful, and you are passionate. So I say to you congratulations for ALL of your hard work.  I say good luck with your next step. But most of all, I say thank you. Thank you for sticking with us—at a safe distance. Thank you for your spirit, your resilience, your voices, your vision. Thank you for being a part of our community. Thank you for being part of the CCAD family. Thank you for the gifts you’re about to share, for the light you are about to provide to the world. 


We need you now, more than ever.


Congratulations and welcome to the CCAD alumni family, Class of 2021!