"The reality is: Some artists are more talented than others. Some are more gifted than others. And they are all ambitious— just like I imagine each of you are. Like them, you all have the ability and responsibility to shape the future for your own generation, those who came before you, and those who have yet to be born. "
Good morning Adelphi Class of 2019, President Christine Riordan, Provost Steve Everett, the Board of Trustees, Faculty members — including my friend Frank Augustyn of the Dance Department — Family and friends. Thank you for inviting me to share in the University’s 123rd Commencement Ceremony. It is an honor to be with you today.
2019 is a special year for all of us. For me personally, this year marks my 40th anniversary with American Ballet Theatre — a Company in which I danced professionally and a cultural institution that I have served as Artistic Director…for longer than you all have been alive!
I imagine that when you think of the ballet world, you may consider it to be centered on perfection and absolute control. However, I have found that success at American Ballet Theatre is all about compromise. In fact, it is antithetical to perfection and the concept of being in charge. Rather, it is all about balance. In today’s frenetic era of societal discord, I think we can all benefit from finding balance amid forces of chaos and change, right?
In my position, I have the great privilege of developing and nurturing talent — young people as they grow into artists. Every day, I challenge individuals to produce not only excellent work, but also believable work. You see, the stories we share on the great stages of the world are not told in words, but instead through the universal language of dance.
During performances, dancers must reach the heights of human achievement physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and while they do this, their movement must ring true to the audience. It is an incredible balance to achieve, as they literally balance on one leg, en pointe, or in the arms of their partners.
The reality is: Some artists are more talented than others. Some are more gifted than others. And they are all ambitious— just like I imagine each of you are. Like them, you all have the ability and responsibility to shape the future for your own generation, those who came before you, and those who have yet to be born. So today, I will offer the advice I give many American Ballet Theatre dancers: There is a difference between “gifted” and “talented.” Being gifted can’t be taught. It needs to be simply accepted in good faith and with gratitude. What can be taught is for the talented: the definition of talent is the ability to realize your gifts.
Having completed your journey at Adelphi, I hope you feel empowered to go realize your gifts in service of something that moves you. Be authentic about it. And this may come as a disappointment some parents here today, but I have to say it: Don’t follow the money.
I have learned that every good artistic decision is a lousy business plan. If your passion is rooted in an activity or cause that allows fulfillment – so that you can be in service to something bigger than yourself — I guarantee that the money will follow.
As you all perform in various professional sectors, strive to be like the dancers of American Ballet Theatre and produce believable work. Make my generation believe in you – make future generations recognize the truth of your actions. We are your audience members and partners. And please remember: it’s all about the balance.
Thank you, again for this honor. And congratulations to the Class of 2019!
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