Message from the Dean

Dean Dominic Brewer's 2017 Graduation Address

Faculty, friends, and graduating students, as Dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, I welcome you all to our 2017 Valedictory Ceremony.

Are you ready to have some fun?

Let’s begin with a special hello to all the parents and families in the audience. I know this is a really big day for you. Thank you for opening up your hearts and your wallets to our graduates. They couldn’t have done it without you. Graduates please stand, face your loved ones, and give them a big round of applause.

So here we are in New York City, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. Alicia Keyes sang that lyric right here at Radio City Music Hall, the world’s largest indoor theater. This is the home of the Rockettes / of Emmy / Grammy Tony Awards shows, and of historic movie premieres like King Kong and Snow White. Graduates, you are about to come across the same stage as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Adele, Tony Bennett, and may others. Here the band Semisonic sang “Closing Time.” Remember that song from your high school graduation?

Steinhardt 2017 graduates, it really is “closing time”: Time for us to open all the doors and let you out into the world.

Graduation is a really special day for me. When you see me standing up here in my fancy schmancy robes – they’re kind of fabulous, huh? – and you hear my highfalutin accent, you probably think, “I bet this guy grew up somewhere like Downton Abbey.”

In fact, my father recently traced our heritage back to the 14th Century, and it turns out I am from a family of farm laborers and servants. My grandfather was a milkman. He left school at 13 because he had nine brothers and sisters who he had to help support. He got up every day at three a.m., worked six days a week, and at the end of that week collected his pay in cash in a little brown envelope. He lived in public housing all of his life. My father was the first in my family to get the opportunity to go to college.

Education is the critical factor that improved our lives. You, graduates, should feel immense pride in joining the ranks of those who have had the privilege of graduating college. 

So let’s take a deep breath, take it all in and really savor this moment.

Let’s take a selfie.

Now the Dean’s selfie has become something of a Steinhardt graduation tradition. In my first year, my staff had so little faith in my selfie-taking ability, they actually inserted a note in my speech that said in all caps – DOM TURN AROUND, AND MAKE SURE YOU GET THE AUDIENCE IN THE PICTURE.

It wasn’t very successful - the result was a trending Instagram feed titled “#DeanSelfieFail.”

I’ve been getting better.

But I think this year we should up the stakes even higher. Let’s all take a selfie together. The World Record for the most simultaneous selfies is 4,991. There are 6,015 seats at Radio City… so everyone take out your phones; let’s do this! (If you don’t know how to take a selfie, just ask the person next to you for help).

We’ll take it on one, two, three Steinhardt.
Ready, one, two three, Steinhardt!

We’ll post that on social media later.

So, you’re about to graduate from an amazing School at one of the world’s best universities. Steinhardt has award-winning faculty and alumni engaged in ground-breaking research and artistic creation, at the cutting edge of their professions. In just the last three years they have won Tonys, Grammys, Emmys, Guggenheims, Pulitzers, MacArthurs, and many other prizes.

Graduates, let’s thank the amazing Steinhardt faculty.

Steinhardt was founded on March 3, 1890, as a school of education. Over the last 127 years, we’ve broadened our focus to include art, music, physical and occupational therapy, speech pathology, applied psychology, food and nutrition, and media and communication.

And today Steinhardt educates teachers, nutritionists, therapists, counselors, artists, musicians, researchers, and others, ALL bound by a commitment to improve people’s lives and to make the world a better place.

People always, always ask me, What exactly is Steinhardt again? I don’t get it.

 Well, we may not be simple to explain, but the world is complex and multifaceted. And you know it’s really kind of boring to be good at one thing when you can be great at many.

At Steinhardt, we have a remarkable legacy of innovation that has literally created new fields and transformed higher education.

At our founding we were the first school of education at an American University. We launched the first media ecology program, the first educational theatre program, the first food studies program, the first physical therapy program, and the first hybrid speech pathology program. And there are dozens more I could add.

The spirit of innovation is in the Steinhardt DNA, and graduates, I know you carry it with you as you go out into the world.

At Steinhardt, we have a remarkable legacy of inclusion, of striving to be an open and welcoming place.

From our founding, we admitted women as both students and faculty. At our first graduation ceremony, three of our graduates were African American public school teachers from segregated schools just a few blocks from this auditorium. We created programs to serve disabled veterans returning from World War I, welcomed – as students and faculty – Jewish emigres fleeing Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s, and trained African American teachers from the south excluded from pursuing higher education in their home states in the 1940s and ‘50s.

The spirit of inclusion is in the Steinhardt DNA, and graduates, I know you carry it with you as you go out into the world.

And finally, Steinhardt has a remarkable legacy of impact, of directly improving and enriching people’s lives through research, teaching, and service.

Steinhardt graduates invented the artificial heart; wrote the screenplay for Singing in the Rain; sculpted the monument at Stonewall; wrote award-winning memoirs like Angela’s Ashes; novels like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; movies like Doubt; and songs like Beauty and the Best.

And if you were to look at just a handful of the hundreds of projects we are working on today, the list is amazing. We are in the city, facilitating Pre-K for all and helping kids get into college. We’re in the world helping bring education to children affected by extreme poverty and war. We’re in the lab, developing assistive technologies for people with disabilities. We’re online, helping to prevent violent threats on social media. And we’re on the street, measuring noise pollution.

The spirit of impact is in the Steinhardt DNA, and graduates, I know you carry it with you as you go out into the world.

I challenge all of you to be innovative, inclusive, and impactful.

Wherever life takes you, remember, you are now a piece of our history. You are the pride of the men and women who came together to found our school. They broke new ground and you will too.

Go make us proud!

Now it is customary at Commencement ceremonies for Deans to close with some advice for the years ahead. This usually draws on the great philosophers, classical literature, or inspiring quotes from world leaders. And often it goes on and on.

But this is the Twitter age, so I figure I have 140 characters to work with. So are you ready:

#DeansAdvice: Take Risks, Find Balance, Change the world, Dream, Be Kind, Remember YOLO – You only live once.

Congratulations and take on the world!