THE BLOG

Why There Is No Shame In Graduating From A School Of The Arts

05/22/2015 08:28 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

This blog post was originally delivered as a commencement speech to the NYU Tisch School of the Arts class of 2015.

Honored guests, parents, faculty, Dean Green, Mr. De Niro, Provost Baer, Deputy President Yu, and especially, my fellow graduates, it's a privilege to be addressing you today.

As we leave NYU, I'm sure many of us are remembering the exciting moment a few years ago when we opened the letter saying welcome to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. It's also possible the letter didn't say welcome. Maybe it said no or not yet and you had to try again. I applied...three times.

The first time, I got in, and I wanted to go. My friends were saving me a bed in Third North; I bought two NYU shirts. And then I flinched. Going to art school was just too risky, so I enrolled at what President Sexton calls the Gated Community in Morningside Heights. Turns out, it wasn't for me.

That year, NYU taught me its first lesson: don't flinch; take the risk.

I applied to transfer. Well, I did the bare minimum to transfer. I was coming from a "very prestigious college," so I thought the application was basically a formality. NYU rejected me.

A second lesson: no one is too special to work hard.

I wish I could say that sunk in right away, but no. I stopped going to class and was placed on academic probation. A year later, I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in LA and working at a mall to pay for improv class. At that point, I was kind of like, screw it, so I sent the following note to my high school counselor: hey! it's Lizzie! Can you send NYU my SAT scores for the third time?

For those keeping track, we have one yes and one no, so it was time for a maybe. In April they said I'd find out in May. In May they said I'd find out in June. In June I got an email: "It's time to register for class!" Then another email: "do not try to register, you are still on the wait list."

My third lesson: patience.

I did get in, and for the past two years I've been surrounded by the most creative, dedicated and inspiring people I've ever met. They're the ones in the purple gowns.

Now, there is a favorite anecdote of big NYU functions I'm sure we've all heard: On a snowy January evening a century ago, a group of painters, poets and actors snuck inside the Washington Square Arch and climbed the spiral staircase to the top. They fired pistols and read by candlelight a proclamation of the Free And Independent Republic of Washington Square.

I think when faculty tell this story, they're trying to inspire our rebellious spirits, but the big takeaway is: there was a time you could sneak inside the arch. Now, it's sealed. Plus, the park closes at midnight. And rent in the village is too high for most artists.

So, here's where we tear our hair out because art is dead and we majored in unemployment so I guess let's sign up for the LSAT.

In my thesis class, we were talking about this event, and one of my classmates asked, "salute what? Our lack of useful degrees?"

I get it. It's really hard to try. It's really easy to be cynical.

I am not on top of the Washington Square Arch, but if you'll bear with me, I have a proclamation:
Let today be the last day we joke that we are stupid or crazy. It's not clever to pretend we hate what we love, and it wasn't wrong study it.

Let today be the last day we dismiss our ambitions before we've started. Does the world need another artist who's already given up?

Let today be the first day we refuse to be embarrassed to be artists. Ironic detachment gets us nowhere.

Look, I don't have a job or an agent or an IMDb page. I loved my time at Tisch and I can't wait to see what we do next, but I don't know that all of our dreams will come true.

All I know for sure is that the first three lessons NYU ever taught me are the ones that stayed with me and are the ones I hope we take with us as we sincerely pursue our passions...

Take risks. Work hard. Have patience.

Now, I could not call myself a Tisch kid if I didn't quote one of my favorite movies. There is a modern masterpiece, directed by Richard Linklater, about a boy becoming a man, and it's called School of Rock.

So, in the words of Mr. S: you've played hard in here. And I am proud of each and every last stinking one of you. Let's just give this everything we've got. We may fall on our faces, but if we do, we will fall with dignity, with a guitar in our hands and rock in our hearts. And in the words of AC/DC: we roll tonight to the guitar bite, and for those about to rock, I salute you.