L. Jay Oliva was my teacher and mentor.
I was in Bhutan, where I have spent eight years setting the ground work to shoot a dramatic feature film, when I received the email from my brother that Jay Oliva had passed away suddenly. I remember my shock, and then my deep deep sadness that a person who had influenced me so profoundly was gone, that I could never talk with him again, never hear his wisdom and never show him the work that he had inspired me to achieve.
But then I realized that it is not true, he lives in my soul as someone who helped me find my way to myself, to believe in myself, to have faith in myself and my vision. I have had so many conversations with him in my imagination over the years, his voice just as clear and wise as it was in person. He helped me to have faith in my imagination as something that can not only be trusted, but be lived as truth. He may have passed from this earth but what he is, lives on in me as a part of me that cannot be extinguished.
Technically, Professor Oliva was my Russian History professor, and it was through the way he taught Russian History that opened up a door into my fertile mind and instilled in me, an unshakable faith and a deep respect for what made me uniquely me. Through assignments in Russian History and coveted discussions in his penthouse overlooking his beloved University, he taught me, to know myself and to be true to myself no matter what. He spoke with such authority I had to believe him.
As I read his obituaries I began to understand the impact he had, not only on me, but on New York City, on education, and on the world. He spoke with authority about self knowledge because he learned to follow his dreams, to trust his visions, to move forward against all odds because his heart told him that he must. He learned from great men and women before him, from Peter the Great and other leaders and visionaries. He brought these visionaries to life for me. He showed me how they thought, how they over came, how they measured success. He brought them to life so well because he lived their wisdom, he integrated their experience into his own and taught me, through example how to do the same.
I will never forget my graduation in Washington Square Park. It was Professor Oliva’s first year as President of NYU and he was giving his first commencement address as President. In front of the entire University but most importantly for me, in front of my father, who had come to my graduation despite the fact that we had been estranged for many year). Professor Oliva began to speak about his experience with the students of TISCH and how he had the great fortune to have a student of TISCH in his Russian History class, a student he recognized as a great visionary, a student he was sure would honor the University as an Alum. And then I heard my name ring out, “and that student is Anne Carey”. I was in shock, I remember my best friend turning to me and saying, “how do you even know the President”?.
Later my brother told me that you could have pushed my father over with a feather, he was so shocked. It was like winning an academy award that I had no idea I was nominated for. In that moment a lifetime of self doubt and fear vanished, never to return again with the same intensity. It was as if he had said, “And the award for all your courage to follow your heart goes to Anne Carey!”
I remember thinking, as I held my diploma in my hand, that what matters most to me is not the diploma in my hands but in the words Professor Oliva spoke about me. Throughout my time as his student he encouraged my creativity over more mundane technical skills. He encouraged me to think and not just repeat what I had read or seen but to integrate it into my very sense of understanding and make it my own. My creative soul soured under his nurturing and excouragement.
The President of one of the greatest academic universities in the world encouraged my passion for learning in my own way, for sharing my own view, for exploring my own mind, he gifted me with the only thing that is 100% mine, he strengthened my faith in the only thing that I could claim as my own, that could not be given or taken, only encouraged. Upon my graduation my mentor gave me a vision of myself that I have held onto all these years, a beautiful vision that I strive with every breath to achieve.
“Jay Oliva helped build a great institution, and he did so with love, devotion, and energy. It is hard to think of a way a life could be better spent. The greatest way to honor him is to carry on his work – to strive each and every day to sustain the academic momentum he did so much to help initiate.”
After all these years, his faith in me and my faith in myself have merged into one. With everything that I do, espically this project in Bhutan, I strive to realize his vision and honor him with my achievements.
— Anne Carey, Class of 1991, Los Angeles, CA