Academic Reflections

Trustees, President Spar, distinguished guests, and Class of 2015, my name is Ally Engelberg and congratulations on your graduation from Barnard College. It is by a combination of strength, perseverance, wit and of course a little bit of good luck that we all stand here today and for that we should be commended.

It was in fall of 2014 that I found myself in an American Studies senior seminar, the most challenging class I had ever taken. The class was called American Cultural Criticism and it focused on the study of cultural critics of the late 19th and 20th centuries. At the end of September, we read Art As Experience, John Dewey’s 1934 exploration of aesthetics.

Dewey urges his readers to understand that art is not something to be experienced, but that art itself is experience and, at the same time, experience is art. This means then that each experience, whether normal or extraordinary, is a piece of art, beautiful in the way it unfolds even if it is painful or difficult. Notice, he says, “how the tense grace of the ballplayer infects the onlooking crowd.” This moment is not imbued with purposeful art and yet, he argues, it is beautiful Dewey asks his readers to look past the capital A Art and instead explore unconscious artmaking, which is endless and constant. It is these small and beautiful moments, that especially as a nostalgic senior, I now notice everywhere.

Think of the obviously beautiful at Barnard— how lucky we are to walk among the Magnolia tree blossoms and to see the sun set over the Hudson from our dorm room windows. Then, take the less obvious beauties, the small moments of life on our hilltop. Think of discoveries in labs, rescuing and recording lost languages, or designing sustainable cities. Each moment of discovery, even each moment that leads to a discovery, is imbued with this remarkable art that makes every experience full of beauty. T

he purposeful creation of art has played a large role in my life at Barnard. As the producer of The Varsity Show here on campus and a student of film, I plan to dedicate my life to a career in professional filmmaking. And yet, it was not until September of my senior year that I realized my life is filled with so much more than the conventional art of theatre and film. My professor closed that seminar with a selection from Emerson’s work Nature, in which he writes “I am glad to the brink of fear.” Today, we have the opportunity to understand what Emerson meant. I am so fiercely glad to have been given the gift of Barnard that, if I let myself, I could be fearful of living life without this place. But if I am to follow Dewey’s message, I have no reason for fear because our experiences of beauty are never ending.

So, congratulations to Barnard’s bold and beautiful Class of 2015. We are science and math pioneers, storytellers, entrepreneurs, archeologists, and future leaders of all kinds. But most of all we are now capable, thanks to our incredible education, of recognizing the beauty within every moment we may experience. We will always be grateful to Barnard for giving us this outlook on life.

Thank you and congrats 2015!