I am pleased to be here to offer congratulations and best wishes to those of you who are marking your graduation today from the University of Georgia with a degree from the Lamar Dodd School of Art. You’ve worked hard, you have much to be proud of, you ought to feel good. I extend these wishes to your friends, your parents and spouses and partners and special others, and to everyone in general, because at the end of the year everyone deserves a hug and congratulations.
I have two very brief but important imperatives for you today. First, use your love of art, your creative and scholarly abilities, to do good in the world. Don’t go back to your studio or office after this ceremony and close the door. You haven’t earned the right to do that. What you have earned the right to do is to use your education and your training and talent to go out and improve your society, serve your fellow human being, and do good for this planet. This is what art is for—it serves the higher needs of humankind. And humankind, in this day and age, really needs some help.
Second, take every opportunity you can find to promote--among your friends, your family, the people you work with, and anyone else you happen to run into--the value of the arts. A recent report from the Wallace Foundation found three intrinsic benefits of the arts: one is pleasure and captivation. A second is personal growth “such as enhanced empathy for other people and cultures, powers of observation, and understanding of the world”—these “cultivate the kinds of citizens desired in a pluralistic society.” The third benefit is the sense of “communal identity” that comes from thinking and talking about the arts, the “expression of common values and community identity” that come from artworks that commemorate events important to individual, group, or national experiences. And this report does not even begin to touch on the economic values of the arts, or their impact in providing a meaningful quality of life in our community. Here’s my report to you: The arts are not a luxury, a convenience, or a casual pastime. They’re an essential part of our daily lives, of our private selves, of what it means to be human and civilized. Be sure to share that message.
Congratulations, and my best wishes to you all.