Encouraging students to always try new things and maintain “the amateur spirit,” celebrated journalist and novelist Kurt Andersen addressed graduates at Pratt Institute’s 124th Commencement on May 14. Andersen, a Pratt trustee, is the host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio show Studio 360.
For the fourth time in Pratt’s history, the event was held at Radio City Music Hall, with 1,470 students, both graduates and undergraduates, crossing the stage and becoming alumni.
“Tomorrow, you can call yourself a certified professional,” Andersen told the crowd of graduates, but a degree should not “replace the amateur spirit, but empower it.”
Andersen said the meaning of “amateur” had been “debased” over time—it should not be used pejoratively. Instead, it should be related to doing something different and fascinating.
“The amateur spirit was the original American spirit,” he said, pointing to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, two founding fathers whose professions—as a lawyer and printer, respectively—never limited the scope of their ambitions nor defined their legacies.
Speaking before Andersen, graduating senior Amanda Wallace, who earned a B.F.A. in Film, also spoke about Pratt students’ creative energy, urging them to trust in their talents and stay in touch with their fellow graduates.
“Now that we have built this network, we are each other’s resources for the rest of our lives,” she said.
Earlier in the event, the Institute awarded honorary degrees to photographer Lee Friedlander, author Daniel Pink, and New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly. Undergraduate architecture professor Theoharis David received the Distinguished Teacher Award for 2013-2014.
At convocation, the day before commencement, students from across the Institute received accolades for their final projects and work at Pratt.
Claire Kelley and Ethan Bliss received the Hilson Family Award, which was established by the Hilson Family Fund to benefit Graduate Communications Design students. Bill Hilson, an adjunct professor in that department, supports the fund.
Bliss’s final project explored distraction. “I was coming up against it a lot,” he explained, and how it could “provide inspiration.” He produced a series of short video vignettes examining different types of diversions.
In the Undergraduate Architecture Department, one of the top awards was the Lee and Norman Rosenfeld Award; Rosenfeld is a Pratt graduate (B. Arch. ’56). It was presented this year to the two best senior thesis projects: Intermodal Urbanism, which re-imagines New York City's food distribution center in Hunts Point in the Bronx, by Amir A. Karimpour and Melissa Balcazar; and Ciudad Vertical, a verdant and ecologically-friendly building complex composed of three towers in Mexico City, by Martin Alejandro Galindez, Johana Elizabeth Monroy, and Jennifer C. Villamar.
“This means a lot to me,” said Galindez about the honor. All the students have Latin American roots, so working in the region was particularly significant.
“Getting this award, it’s proof that we have something that we can offer to ourselves and everyone else,” he added.
Text: Ruth Samuelson
Photos: Samuel Stuart