[These are welcoming remarks I offered as emcee of Goddard College’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program Commencement, 31 January 2016.]
Last month on public radio, the novelist Sandra Cisneros said, ‘write your most difficult stories so those stories can no longer hold a knife to your throat.’ In just a few words, she conveyed the urgency with which we need to speak truth to power, while letting us know that to resist exposing what we’ve seen—what we know as truth—is to agree to be the keepers of our own captivity.
We’re living in dark times. And there are many things to say.
I worry, though, that by naming this I’m falling into cliché. Perhaps my gloom comes from having just turned fifty, or maybe it has to do with the particular circumstances in which I find myself. But I know it’s more. The reports we receive from around the world are more often grim than hopeful, and too often remind us of our complicity in the world’s horrors. But must not every generation feel like it’s inhabiting dark times? I think so. And it’s this recognition that keeps me from thinking we’re special; that our labors are in some way greater—or less—than those who came before us.
No. What Cisneros asks of us is the work of being human. She’s asking us to transcend ignorance – which literally means to ignore truths that lie before us. She’s inviting us into the transformational action that is the result of radical presence; action that emerges from a commitment to witness.
Recently, when I was feeling down about what I’m able to accomplish through my work, Jackie Hayes, who until recently served Goddard as Academic Dean, program director of the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, and a long-time member of this faculty, reminded me of why I teach here, what she called ‘the magnificence of this place.’ She was referring, of course, to students and all they accomplish through self-directed study: to their search for truth, their work to claim voice, and their efforts to use power well; in how their research, thinking and making reveal the world and call us collectively towards justice—justice that needs to be both seismic and intimate.
This weekend we’ve witnessed some artists, and some intense magnificence. It is an honor to stand with these artists and scholars today: You, my friends, stand as lights in dark times.
My name is Peter Hocking and, on behalf of the faulty, it’s my honor to welcome those assembled to the Historic Haybarn Theater at Goddard College for the Winter 2016 commencement of the Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts program.
It is now my pleasure to introduce our commencement speaker. Archie Shepp received his undergraduate degree from Goddard College in 1959, and returned to Goddard to accept our Presidential Award for Excellence in 2013. This year he is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Fellowship, the United State’s highest honor bestowed on a jazz musician. As the National Endowment for the Arts notes, Shepp is best known for his Afrocentric music of the late 1960s, a unique style of free-form avant-garde jazz blended with African rhythms, and his collaborations with John Coltrane, Horace Parlan, Cecil Taylor, and the New York Contemporary Five ensemble. His long career as an educator has focused on ethnomusicology, looking at the history of African-American music from its origins in Africa to its current state. Please welcome the legendary Archie Shepp.