Scenes from CalArts 2019 Graduation: Wonderland

The dipping temperatures couldn’t cool off the joy and excitement emanating from CalArts’ 2019 graduating class, their families and friends at the raucous commencement ceremony, held on campus on Friday, May 17.

The festivities began at 3 pm with performances by the CalArts Balinese Gamelan Ensemble, directed by Music faculty Nyoman Wenten and Nanik Wenten, at the main entrance walkway. The music welcomed guests to campus and heralded the start of commencement ceremonies like no other school produces. At 3:30 pm, graduating student Chloe Levaillant (Music MFA 19) performed a tightrope performance on a wire strapped to the railings above the S. Mark Taper Courtyard.

Inside the Main Gallery, President Ravi S. Rajan welcomed family and friends to the President’s Reception while the student-led band Sparky and the Space Parade provided the tunes.

During the pre-ceremony concert at the Graduation Courtyard, guests staked their claims to chairs and picnic blanket spaces while listening to live music by Sara Brown, the Lowpass Collective and Undecided Future.

The African Music and Dance Ensemble leads the procession of graduates. | Photo: CalArts

At 6 pm, the African Music and Dance Ensemble, directed by The Herb Alpert School of Music faculty members Andrew Grueschow and Sulley Imoro, led the procession of the graduating students. Dressed to suit their mood, some students donned costumes; others wore suits or special outfits—and for some, it was just another Friday at CalArts.

CalArts Vice President of Student Experience Brian Harlan welcomed guests to campus and exuberantly told the audience that “everything that you experience tonight, everything you see, was conceived of, designed and produced by our students!” He added, “Look at the result,” referring to the gigantic Alice in Wonderland-themed stage, crafted with papier-mâché and video screens.

The graduating class of 2019 | Photo: CalArts

On behalf of the graduating students, Student Trustee Pablo Leñero (Music BFA 19) and Student Union Co-President Eloy Neira (Critical Studies MFA 19) thanked parents, families, friends, faculty and staff for their support, mentoring and belief in their artistic practices. They also encouraged the graduating class to get involved in developing solutions that address the tuition crisis that’s affecting many institutions of higher learning and education.

Tracie Costantino, CalArts Provost, told the audience that this was her first CalArts graduation, and marked the culmination of her her first academic year at the Institute. She shared a few observations from her first year: noting the exuberance of the community, its generative spirit, and its penchant for spontaneity and improvisation. Costantino also added that she’s noticed one standout characteristic of a CalArtian: “A commitment to social justice and wielding the arts and aesthetics as a powerful expression of the human potential for empathy and generosity. I urge you to bring—especially this—into the world as a sign of CalArts.”

Tim Disney, Chair of the CalArts Board of Trustees, addressed the student tuition protests and said that CalArts Board and Administration are “committed to seizing on this opportunity to turn things in another direction and to proceed forward with open minds. I know we can do this, and we’ll do it together.”

President Ravi Rajan congratulates the Class of 2019

President Rajan was introduced by an Alice in Wonderland-themed spoof laced with CalArts humor. He congratulated the graduates and noted that they were already artists before they came to CalArts. “We wanted each of you here, because we saw that you had something to say. We saw that artist’s voice in you, and we wanted to help you develop it—and you did.”

He also referenced Alice’s time in Wonderland, which left her completely the same, and compared it to the students’ stay in “CalArts-land”: “I hope your time here has left you permanently changed and that you will now go forth and change the world together.”

Disney then returned to the stage and he and Rajan conferred the degrees upon the graduating students. The individual presentation of degrees to the 411 students followed. It is a CalArts’ tradition to allow each student any 15-second snippet of music or sound to use as they walk across the stage. After all the schools were completed, the student producers had one more surprise: A mini-fireworks display off the roof of the main building.

CalArts Graduation 2019 ended with fireworks. | Photo: Screenshot

The night was just getting started as the class of 2019 and their guests ate, drank and danced until the wee hours of the morning throughout the Main Gallery and other parts of campus, with the African Music and Dance Ensemble and the CalArts Salsa Band, directed by David Roitstein, performing.

Congratulations to the CalArts class of 2019! If you missed the livestream from Friday’s ceremony, we’ve added it below for your watching/re-watching pleasure.

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