Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater was awash in violet on Tuesday morning as the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development graduated its undergraduate class of 2019.
Students began trickling in to the tune of jazz trumpets, and in a matter of minutes, the theater went from mostly empty to completely packed with students and families. Some of the violet-clad grads came in groups; others wandered in solo. For the hour before the ceremony began, shrieks of joy echoed through the room as friends found each other in the crowd.
After the first round of hugs and tears was over, the students settled into their seats and bagpipes began playing, signaling the start of the procession.
“I kind of feel like I’m going to throw up right now,” Media, Culture and Communications major Riley McKeon said. “I feel really stressed. I’m worried I’m going to trip on the stage.”
McKeon reflected on her last four years, saying things went by much faster than she expected.
“I actually feel like I moved in freshman year like last semester, it’s insane,” she said.
“I guess I’m kind of the person that pretends it’s not happening until it is happening so that I don’t stress too much. So it feels surreal right now because I didn’t digest that I was graduating.”
To greet the graduates on behalf of the university, NYU President Andrew Hamilton made a short speech. He touched on the talent and range of Steinhardt students and joked about the talent that has graced Madison Square Garden.
“Every one of you will walk across this stage and be able to channel your favorite stars,” he said. “Just last week, P!nk performed on this stage. Every one of you has the chance to be your inner P!nk, as you are a star for the day.”
Hamilton apologized to the crowd, as he had to leave early to attend the 10 a.m. College of Arts and Science commencement ceremony at Radio City Music Hall.
“I’m going to ask for forgiveness because we’re going to rush away later in the ceremony. We have to get up to Radio City Music Hall for the College of Arts and Science graduation,” Hamilton said. “As I am channeling my inner P!nk this morning, I actually think she’d be envious of me because she’s never played Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall in the same day.”
Hamilton was followed by outgoing Steinhardt Dean Dominic Brewer, who is ending his five-year tenure this semester. He walked to the front of the stage and did a twirl in his robes, drawing laughter from the audience. He also took the annual Dean’s Selfie.
“Now, selfies are over,” Brewer said. “But this is my last commencement as dean, and for this little kid from Bedford, England to get to stand on the third base of Yankee Stadium, on the stage at Radio City Music Hall and now here at Madison Square garden is kind of special. So I’m going to take a selfie.”
He made a few jokes, emphasized the recent successes of the school and congratulated the class.
“As you graduate today, remember that wherever life takes you, you are now a piece of our history,” Brewer said. “You’re the pride of the men and women that came together to found our school. They broke the ground, and you will too.”
Brewer presented the Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award to Di-Ann Eisnor, a 1994 graduate and current CWeO Cities of WeWork. Eisnor briefly addressed the graduating class, followed by a musical interlude by the Steinhardt Singers and Dance Educators.
Khirad Siddiqui, an Applied Psychology major and selected student speaker, was next to address the crowd of her peers. Her five-minute speech centered around the idea that everyone’s name carries a story, and instead of zoning out when names of degree candidates are being called, audience members should listen. She discussed the significance of her own name, and her upbringing in a mostly white town.
“My name is a map of the journey that my parents and their parents have taken,” she said. “It is an altar upon which my parents, two working-class Muslim immigrants in an unfamiliar country, placed their deepest hopes of me. For their daughter to be wise and to gain an education where that right could be promised to her in ways it wasn’t promised to them.”
After students receiving special honors and awards were recognized and the Steinhardt Singers performed “This is Me,” members of the Class of 2019 were ready to walk the stage. Each name called was met with loud cheers from friends and families in the audience.
“My mom was crying on the train already,” Applied Psychology major Mariah Pono said. “I’m a first-gen college student so my whole family is just going crazy today. I just can’t get used to it right now. It was my dream school and now it’s done.”
After undergraduates from every department walked the stage, Brewer delivered closing remarks and the Steinhardt Singers performed “New York, New York.”
“There’s not much left to say except you’re going to do us proud,” Brewer said. “And just remember, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
Email Sakshi Venkatraman at [email protected]