The following commencement address was delivered at the graduation ceremony for the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) program in Plainfield, Vermont, on July 27, 2014, by MFAIA student Christine Brubaker:
I want to share something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year–the power of acknowledgement. I want to talk about the possibilities that I’ve experienced when TRUE  acknowledgement happens, and the cost of when it doesn’t.
To start off, I will acknowledge that I am nervous. I’ve never done this sort of thing–be a Commencement speaker.  I want to acknowledge that this is unusual–asking a fellow student to do this honor. It’s worth acknowledging that this is different, but more importantly it is worth expressing how Goddard College is different. It speaks to Goddard’s values about how we learn.
It’s not a vertical experience, a top-down dump from our superiors.  Learning is rhizomatic.  It is a complex rooting system where tendrils and shoots of knowledge can appear anywhere, anytime.  There are multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points.  Knowledge comes from sharing, interacting with others, moving and rooting through ideas and our world.  It can happen at any stage of our lives, anywhere on our journey, our career.  And it’s certainly not going to stop when we leave this place.  Asking me, a fellow student, a junior, recognizes this and is a perfect example of our Goddard MFAIA mantra–theory in action–PRAXIS.
I’m a theatre artist. I live in Toronto, and for the last few years, I’ve been working closely with a Canadian director named Jillian Keiley, the artistic director of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.  Jill starts out every one of her rehearsals with a series of exercises she calls Acknowledgements.  They go something like this: everyone stands in a circle. I might be in the center, and start with,  “Peter, you and me both…..” (and then I might take a stab at something that I thought Pete and I might share or do the same. If I am so lucky to land something in common, then Pete takes over, and if I don’t, I might try again with someone else)…”Pam…you and me both get irked by the term CFA.”
You get the picture.  There are variations on these games, but as they are played through the weeks, details of our lives, often the mundane, sometimes the significant, parts of ourselves that would normally never make it into this rehearsal culture, are invited in. Commonalities are discovered. Through these brief exchanges we begin to see each other. Noticing the small, perhaps even hidden details, we reveal parts of ourselves, and together we make a space for each other’s humanity and complexity.  We find moments of connection.  We become more whole with one another.
I want to offer another example of the power of acknowledgement but this time through its absence.  A few years ago, I was in Paris for my fortieth birthday with my husband. I was six months pregnant with my second child.  We had flown over on a discount charter airline, Zoom.  On the day of our departure, I developed bronchitis.  We checked our luggage and then were told that our flight would be late.  We asked how long. The airline employee proceeded to tell us they weren’t sure. So we waited and waited and waited and after a series of conversations with strangers, we found out that the plane would be so late that it would never in fact arrive. The airline had gone bankrupt.
I, being six months pregnant and hacking away like a plague victim, became quite hysterical. I went to the airline desk half weeping/half yelling and begging/demanding for any information about another flight. The airline employee, who was about two feet away from me, completely ignored me. I yelled some more and when she did look up, she looked right through me–she just pretended I did not exist.  She would not acknowledge my presence.  That was powerful.  Here I was, a sweaty hacking hysterical pregnant woman.  I was not an easy creature to ignore.  I think we all know those moments to a greater or lesser degree:  emails that don’t get answered, tricky tensions or hurt between friends that never get spoken about, work we put into projects and don’t get thanked for–those moments where someone’s lack of acknowledgement leaves us feeling hurt, confused, sometimes angry, but ultimately isolated, alone.
Often we think of the word acknowledgement as giving people credit–a thank you. It certainly means that, but it carries a lot more. Acknowledgement.  I love this word. Knowledge is right there in the middle.  It’s etymology is from Middle English, Ancnawan, which means to “Recognize and Understand.”  The current Oxford definition is “the acceptance as truth or existence of something.”
Another definition is, “showing that one has noticed someone or something.”
And then finally there is the “Expression of gratitude.”  Recognize, Understand, Truth, Existence, Notice, Expression.  Big ideas. It’s a rich word.  It’s almost a template for a portfolio, isn’t it?  So what does Acknowledgement do?  I’ve talked about some of the repercussions of NOT acknowledging someone, but what happens when we do acknowledge?  What happens when we recognize people? What happens when we notice them?  When our truth or existence is accepted?
Acknowledgement is one very small action, but a very powerful one.  It takes presence, but presence alone is not enough. It is the first ACTION, the first inclination, first opening to discovery – of newness.  Something as of yet unknown. It takes time. It requires a pause in our own thinking, our own agenda and preoccupations, so we can put our focus elsewhere. It also takes courage.  When we acknowledge someone, we are creating a space for them.  We are releasing a small piece of our circle of control and allowing the unknown and sometimes the uncontrollable in.  And this can be scary.  But I argue that rewards outweigh the cost. When we acknowledge we gain understanding. We seed the potential of another possible deeper connection where more discovery and learning can take place.  Where we gain knowledge.
Now just to be clear, acknowledgement does not mean agreement, complicity, or compromise. It is not caving in to someone else’s needs or desires in the face of our own.  It is simply an act of recognizing that even in conflict, even when we feel the most misunderstood, by acknowledging each other we remind ourselves that there is a shared humanity between us. We are not alone.
And today, we are definitely not alone. I want to acknowledge all the beautiful souls gathered here. So much to celebrate.  These fifteen people have completed something remarkable. They have articulated their visions for their art, their processes and for the world. They are MASTERS of the INTERDISCIPLINARY ARTS.  And it’s taken a LOT of work.
I want to acknowledge the journey they’ve each undertaken to earn the right to sit in those chairs–the immense time commitment, the depleted bank accounts, the enormous debt, the juggle of so many other obligations, the relationships with family and friends that had to take a pause ‘cause you have to write.’  The thinking, the struggling, the relating–the misunderstandings, the conflicts and the absences.  And of course, the incredible rewards–the connections, the sharing, the growth, the expansion, the confidence, the discoveries, and the vision for the future.  We are making room here for all of it.
I want to acknowledge the advisors for the time and focus they given each of you. The relationships created through engagement with ideas. The patience. The care.
And then you, our witnesses.  I want to acknowledge Love.  How many of you are here because you love one of these graduates?
There are a lot of connections here. We are not alone. We have learned something about one another.  We have and are taking the time to make a space for one another.
I propose we give these graduates our focus, our attention, our acknowledgement with a brief moment of silence. Please join me in sending our joy, our confidence and energy to these remarkable people and good friends. Thank you.

Important Announcement


The Board of Directors for Goddard College have made the difficult decision to close the college at the end of the 2024 Spring term.  

 

Current Goddard students will have the opportunity to complete their degrees at the same tuition rate through a teach-out with like-minded institution, Prescott College. Updates and scholarship funds will be available in the coming weeks and months. Information will be posted to www.goddard.edu

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