Liberal Studies Commencement ’19

The Liberal Studies commencement ceremony took place in the Skirball Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday. (Photo by Yasmin Gulec)

As excited family members and friends took their seats in the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the 2019 Liberal Studies graduating class lined up backstage, whispering about their plans after the ceremony and snapping photographs with each other.

Global Liberal Studies graduate Catherine Leng summarized the general feeling among her peers as “amazing, excited, nervous.” Fellow GLS graduate Claire Burke added that she felt ”grateful to be surrounded by such great people,” as she smiled to her surrounding friends.

A couple of doors down from the students, the faculty — dressed in the gowns of their respective alma maters — was ready to walk out the door with Liberal Studies Dean Julie Mostov leading the line. She shared her thoughts on the graduating class.  

“One of the greatest qualities they have in addition to being original thinkers, innovative and spirited creators is the fact that they are committed to social justice,” Mostov said. “And that you see it in their theses and in the work that they do inside and outside the classroom.”

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As the students hurried into line, their hands gripped the yellow papers on which their names were scrawled. GLS graduate Will Willard said that he has been looking forward to graduating.

“It is the biggest moment of our lives,” Willard said. “I have been waiting for this moment for so long, I am so excited. I am filled with nervous anticipation.”

Banner bearer and salutatorian Michael Anthony Leonetti led the members of the procession to their seats as “Pomp and Circumstance” played in the background.

GLS graduates Maria Torres and Will Willard smile before lining up to go into the theater. (Photo by Yasmin Gulec)

Native American Chief Mann began the ceremony by acknowledging that the land NYU is situated on land that once belonged to Native Americans and he said a prayer thanking the creator for giving them this day. Mostov thanked the families, partners, faculty and graduates for all their support and efforts. She also took a moment to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Global Liberal Studies program and ended her speech by telling the graduating class to “come back” and visit.

Nick Grassi, who graduated in 2012 from GLS, was the alumnus speaker for the ceremony. He reminded the class that their connections are everywhere.

“We are truly among excellent company, not only here but around the world,” he said.

In his speech, Grassi also listed his three keys to happiness: finding your path, finding your own adventure and finding your people. He shared how the GLS major has progressed from his day as the first class to graduate from GLS with just 10 people to today, a program large enough to fill an entire theater with students.

“We are a different breed here at GLS,” Grassi said.

GLS graduate Markita Schulman then gave the valedictorian address and asked students, “Where do we go from here?” She explained how much this class had to offer to the world.

Schulman quoted Virginia Woolf, explaining that we all have unknowns and fears of both our own future and the future of the world with political turbulence and climate change.

“The future is dark, with a darkness as much of the womb as of the grave,” she said, quoting Rebecca Solnit to illustrate that the GLS graduates had the light to clear out the darkness with the great work they do. She ended her speech by saying that the future is dark, but we have to cast our own unique light.

The graduating class collect their stoles and get their photographs taken during the presentation of the candidates. (photo by Yasmin Gulec)

As Schulman took her seat on stage, Dean Mostov presented the honors and awards. The Schwarzbach Global Impact Award went to Damariz Damken who stood up and excitedly waved at everyone. David Baler blew a kiss to the crowd as he accepted the Community Leadership Award. The ePortfolio Prize — which recognizes a senior whose ePortfolio best reflects their intellectual development, personal growth and the values of the program was awarded to Lucy Lyons with an honorable mention for Tarring Qian. For his thesis titled, “Homosexuality With Chinese Characteristics: Queer Space and Gay Identity in Urban China,” Ian Kumamoto won Best Overall Thesis, following the Senior Thesis Prizes, which honored the best thesis from each concentration.

The awards and honors were followed by the presentation of the candidates by LS Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Molly Martin, who read the names of each candidate as they walked onstage. Each graduate’s gold stole was embroidered with the flag of the country where they studied.

The graduation concluded with student speaker Isha Mazumdar who explained she didn’t have all the answers to life and instead sought the advice of the people of New York. The two main themes in her findings were love and empathy for one another and the importance of taking risks, according to Mazumdar.

“You all took at least one risk to be seated here today,” Mazumdar said with tears in her eyes.

Email Yasmin Gulec at [email protected]

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