Message from the Dean

Dean Dominic Brewer's 2016 Graduation Address

Distinguished Guests, Faculty of the Steinhardt School, Parents, Family Members, Friends, Alumni, and Graduating Students, as dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, I welcome you all to our 2016 Graduation Ceremony.

Congratulations Class of 2016!

Graduates, we are here to celebrate you!

Today we welcome you today into a community of scholars. You have earned your place here through your hard work, perseverance, original research, artistic creation, and scholarship.

We offer a special thanks to parents, spouses, partners, family members, and friends who have supported our graduates. And let’s acknowledge one other group of amazing people, central to your time here – the Steinhardt faculty.

Let’s give them all a round of applause.

Steinhardt is a truly great school. We have remarkable faculty and alumni who are engaged in ground-breaking research and artistic creation and are working at the cutting edge of their professions.

In just my first two years as dean, our faculty and alumni have won Tonys, Grammys, Emmys, Guggenheims, and a Pulitzer Prize.

I am sure that your accomplishment today is just the beginning of a lifetime of achievement.

Let’s take a deep breath and savor the moment.

Graduation is always very touching event for me. Too often we are judged by our appearance or our accent, and in my case, strangers usually assume that I grew up in privilege — probably somewhere like Downton Abbey.

In fact, my father recently traced our heritage back to the 14th century, and 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 whom he had to help support. He got up every day at 3 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 500 years to get the opportunity to go to college.

The critical factor that has improved the standard of living for my family is education. You should feel immense pride in joining the ranks of those who have had the privilege of attending college.

Education is about the gift of opportunity; that’s what we’ve been offering at Steinhardt for 126 years.

We were founded in 1890 and we were the first School of Pedagogy at an American university.

We were born into a very different New York City. Sanitation was in its infancy and people got around on trolley cars. The Brooklyn Bridge was just seven years old; the Statue of Liberty was four.

People were excited about the typewriter, the light bulb, and the bicycle. The book people were reading was How the Other Half Lives, which documented the poverty on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

In 126 years, Steinhardt became a school that would respond to the issues of the day by broadening our focus beyond education to include arts, music, physical and occupational therapy, speech pathology, applied psychology, nutrition, and media and communication.

We became a school that would extend opportunity to women, to African Americans, and to veterans.

In 1890, when women didn’t even have the right to vote, we admitted women to our school and recruited women to our faculty.

In 1891, at our first graduation ceremony, three of our graduates were African American public school teachers.

When the nation’s World War I veterans needed rehabilitation, we created a degree program in physical therapy.

In 1929, we admitted future civil rights activist Dorothy Height, who had been rejected by Barnard College because it had exceeded its “two black students per year” quota.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, when Jim Crow laws prevented 140 African American teachers from being educated in their southern home states, we created a special program for them to earn graduate degrees during summers and weekends at NYU.

Just this past spring, I got to meet Randall Kennedy, the son of one of these path-breaking students. Every day of his life, Mr. Kennedy, who is a distinguished Harvard law professor, brings his own powerful voice to bear on the question of race, law, and civil rights in American education.

You, too, must bring your powerful voices to bear on the issues of the day. As graduates of an elite institution, it is incumbent upon you not to forget how the other half lives. Whatever field you end up working in, work to expand opportunity for others. Make your life about paying it forward.

And wherever life takes you, remember, you are a piece of our history.  You are the pride of the men and women who came together in 1890 to create our school. They broke new ground and you will too.