Restless New School grads eager to start celebrating Friday lucked out with a speed round of commencement speakers. In a matter of minutes, Diane von Furstenberg, Laverne Cox and four others doled out straight-shooting advice after receiving their respective honorary degrees.
The event at the Javits Center North was the school’s 80th annual commencement ceremony also lauded activist DeRay McKesson; the International Rescue Committee’s David Miliband; Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian, and forensic anthropologist Mercedes Doretti. Cox, of “Orange Is the New Black” fame, reminded the crowd how quickly life can turn around, recalling how four years ago she was toying with the idea of going to grad school since she hadn’t booked an acting job in nearly a year. She will soon be on CBS’ “Doubt” and Fox’s remake of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Picking up her first honorary degree, Cox said, “I often ask myself, ‘How does a black transgender woman from Mobile, Ala., raised by a single mother from a working class background end up here in this position?’”
Education was a factor, she said, as well as trying to give back from the moment she had an opportunity, a platform…as you move toward your divinity, be of service. Give back. I believe that is when you will align with a higher purpose for yourselves and more towards your destiny.”
Noting how one in 120 people in the world are fleeing conflict, Miliband encouraged graduates to be engaged with the modern world to not just study it. He also reminded the crowd of how photographer Nilüfer Demir’s image of a drowned boy on the shores of Bodrum crystallized the Syrian refugee crisis and how any one of them could have taken that image.
In a three-minute span, von Furstenberg also went straight to the chase, telling students, “You have all these doors in front of you and you can decide which door to push. The door that is your door may not be the most glamorous one and maybe it’s an unexpected one, but it’s a very important time for you to really go deep into yourself and think about the person you want to be. And think about where you want to go and just push that door, go there and get any job because that is where you feel you are being true to yourself.”
The designer also had practical pointers. “Once you have a tiny little job, make sure that you arrive first and, more importantly, leave the last because they will notice you. My second advice that I want to remind you of is that frustrations, rejections, humiliating moments will be your best moments, your best souvenirs. And when you are successful, that will be the story that you will always tell. Also, remember, there are no stupid jobs — only stupid people,” she said to rousing applause. “Another thing for you to know is that all successful people often feel like losers — that didn’t get a reaction?”
In closing, von Furstenberg said, “In the end the most important advice that I can given anyone is the most important relationship you have in life is the one that you have with yourself. If you have that, any other relationship is a plus and not a must. And the last thing to remember is that, ‘Fear is not an option.’”