Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development Commencement ‘17

Steinhardt alumni Ian Axel and Chad King, who make up the platinum-selling music group A Great Big World, accepted the 2017 Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award at this year's Steinhardt Undergraduate Commencement ceremony. The duo graduated in 2007 from the school's Music Business program.

Bagpipes and raucous cheers met the graduating students of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development’s class of 2017 as they proceeded down the aisles of Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday. Their commencement ceremony honored the nearly 750 baccalaureate students who completed their studies at Steinhardt this spring.

Remarkable pride was present throughout the entire ceremony, as is expected for commencements, but it was especially poignant throughout the community gathered that afternoon. In his greetings on behalf of the school, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean Dominic Brewer spoke of the impressive character of both the school and its students, mentioning that innovation, inclusion and impact are all in the Steinhardt DNA, and expressed his wishes that those sentiments be carried forward by graduating students.

In his greetings on behalf of the faculty, Associate Professor of English and Urban Education David Kirkland told the heart-aching story of the summer between ages 12 and 13 that he spent living homeless in a Detroit park. He spoke to the audience about the single most impactful woman he met that summer, who embodied for him the concept of hope — not the lackluster noun, but the powerful and inspirational verb. The woman, Kirkland said, saw hope in the skeptical young boy just as he saw hope in the spirits of the Steinhardt graduates.

With just as much sentimentality and inspiration, the ceremony continued with the presentation of the newly-renamed Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award. This year, the award was given to 2007 graduates of the Music Business program Ian Axel and Chad King, the two halves that make up the band A Great Big World, known for their hit single with Christina Aguilera “Say Something.” Following a presentation of their video for the band’s tribute to King’s diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and the bravery of his and other definant stories, “Won’t Stop Running,” which was accompanied by choreography from the Steinhardt Dancing Educators, King and Axel expressed their gratitude for the recognition and bits of advice for the students.

“Embrace your insecurities, your imperfections, because they are the most perfect things about you,” Axel said. “They are what make you stand out. They are what will draw people to you. Your story and your voice is unlike any other. Your truth speaks volumes.”

Student speaker Nasrin Jafari focused her address on the meaningful relationships created within the Steinhardt community and beyond during the students’ years at NYU. Jafari emphasized the importance of those connections not just for the usual intent of career networking, but for being a meaningful part of the world at large. She also noted the difficulty in creating these connections in a lasting way.

“As graduates of Steinhardt, we all share an interest in human development and a passion for helping others,” Jafari said. “Creating these personal connections is no easy task. It requires vulnerability. It requires the willingness to face and embrace everything that our relationships bring to the surface about who we are and where we stand.”

The Steinhardt Singers closed the ceremony’s last moments before presenting degrees to the graduates with a powerful medley of songs centered on the theme of heroes. The focus was appropriate for the send-off of hundreds of big dreamers and high achievers. Passionate applause met the Singers’ final notes as they beamed with pride and, as Kirkland had so powerfully noted, hope.

Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]

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