College of Fine Arts Graduation Speech 2018 by Rachel Luebbert

May 04 2018

It is an honor to be here today, in a room surrounded by so many incredible artists, teachers, thinkers, and families to celebrate the class of 2018. When I entered the University of Utah as a freshman, I had very few things figured out but I did know that art is fundamental to our world and was something that I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my life. I remember attending my first modern dance show at the U, performed by an improvisation-based company. This show entailed dancers rolling on the floor, screaming, and 2 bug characters conversing about politics. I thought to myself “So this is what college is like".

Surprisingly, this was not that far from the truth. In so many of my modern dance classes and rehearsals, we rolled on the ground, rolled on each other, talked, sang, and screamed. We, as artists, like to call ourselves “experimental.”
But college ended up being a lot more than this. The College of Fine Arts became a place where we could pursue ideas that deeply interested us—even if they were strange, unexplored or unconventionally dangerous. We learned that being an art student means working long hours that most definitely extend past the 9-5 sector. Being an art student means that you invest your whole self into your academic career—your work is something to be proud of.

Artists at the U are especially inspiring humans. You are creators, thinkers, supporters, advocates, performers, educators, and storytellers. We are all moved to make and support art for reasons that are varied, complex, and often intensely personal. And this fuels us to imagine, experiment and create.

I know this because I have had the opportunity to review the Fine Arts Fees grants that students write. In this past year, there have been incredibly innovative projects and dangerous ideas. There have been grants to produce curated art shows—have you seen the Gittins Gallery? There is phenomenal work in there. There were grants to commission professional musicians to play music composed by students. And female makers using film to share rarely heard stories. Also, we learned over the last week how an art project in the form of a cry closest can spark a national conversation on safe spaces and sharing emotions.

You are all doing exciting things and you are making art that matters. One of my favorite projects was the Theatre Department’s performance of Eclipsed which is based on the real life stories of women and girls who helped bring peace to Liberia during its second civil war. Eclipsed was the first all-black and female creative cast and team to premiere on Broadway and it was performed here at the U last year.

Projects like these show a consciousness towards inclusion and become deeply empowering. So as we embark on new projects and collaborations, I challenge us to continue to consider representation. Ask yourself what are the identities of the characters are you writing? Who are you casting? Is your dance heteronormative? What artists are you presenting in your museum or performance venue? But also, as audience members and consumers of art ourselves, who are you supporting? Are you supporting people of color and latinx individuals? Are you supporting women and people of the LGBTQIA community? We cannot just say that ‘Black Lives Matter’ but we must that show that their truth exists though our art. So, I challenge us, to be conscious of what our art is saying and of who it is representing. We are the future generation of art. It is time to embrace your inclusive and dangerous ideas.

Lastly, I would like to thank our professors and staff. For the past several years you have poured your wisdom and time into our education. You have showed us how art is important and what creativity, innovation, and hard work looks like. Thank you to families and friends for your unending support. You deeply care about our voices and about ensuring that we succeed. I thank you all, we would not be here today without you.

To the class of 2018, we have worked hard for several years to make it to this point. It is time to celebrate and embrace the next journey. Have patience and confidence in yourself through this new period and lean into your communities when times are difficult. You have chosen an epic, brave path in life. Know that you are powerful and can change the world with your dangerous ideas.