Class of 2020 remarks by Nina Dietz

So, this is it. This moment right here is what we have spent the last four years working toward.  This is not the graduation any of us anticipated. It is not the week-long celebration capping off our efforts and marking the start of the next chapter in our lives that we were promised.  But this is a pandemic, so we adapt. Life is moving on and we have come together, albeit virtually, to signify that we, the NYU Tisch Photo class of 2020 have made it. In spite of a global pandemic we have graduated and that is an achievement worth celebrating.

Now comes the difficult part. In many ways college itself is a transitional period.  You are on your own, but you have the built in community of the University to fall back on. And the DPI community has been a warm and supportive home to us for the last four years.

For me, and for much of our class, the teachers and the Cage have been at the heart of our DPI family.  The Cage has been a vital source of information throughout our time at Tisch, but especially when we were all scared Freshmen. Caleb and the TA’s could answer even the most inane of questions, with minimal eye rolling, as long as you could answer “what is doing or not doing”.  Beyond the priceless photography advice and equipment they dispense at the cage, perhaps the most vital part of the cage was to be a sounding board for frazzled colleagues. Nearly a quarter of our class has worked at the cage at one time or another. I became a TA my sophomore year, and I loved it.  The cage, and ISO became the center of my social life. Half the time I loved being Co-heads of ISO with Katie McGowan. The other half, well running things is never as easy as just being a part of them.  But it is certainly more rewarding.  There is a specific kind of pride that only comes from having been responsible for the creation of something, and not just part of it.

I think that is part of what makes this particular transition so hard. We did not get the closure we anticipated in the last semester of our collegiate careers.  We are not stepping into the next great phase of our lives, but rather just the surreal liminal space that has encompassed the globe. We do not know what kind of a world we are graduating into.  The defining characteristic of our current world is uncertainty.  How do we become ourselves when all contextual guides have vanished from this world in flux?

We have been flung to the four winds as many of us have been forced to flee our beloved city and return to our childhood homes in an attempt to escape coronavirus.

For many of us, home used to fit like a favorite pair of shoes.  It gave us the cushioned stability we needed to go forth and explore, made us feel taller, like we could reach more because we had the support of friends and family, and curiosity to point our toes wherever they wished to wander.  At least that’s how it used to feel.  Now, for me at least, it’s like these shoes, my old favorite shoes, don’t quite fit right anymore.  They pinch in the toe box, my curiosity no longer free to dictate the direction of my toes, and rub in the heel, the support that had made me feel so wonderfully tall long gone.  My hometown friends and family are now occupied with other things.  And that stability for exploration I have since discovered is not actually based on the place, but on my willingness to explore.  I have grown and changed and my curiosity and interests have expanded and broadened beyond where they stood when I moved away.  Though some of my fascinations remain the same,  the depth and breadth of that fascination has expanded exponentially and no longer fits in those pinchy too-tight shoes. 

Yet here I am. Here we are.  I have had to chip away at my expanded boundaries, remove all of my interests that no longer fit in those old favorite shoes, and force myself into a space far too small for the nebulous multitudes contained within myself. And I bet you have too.

  The only pieces of myself that remained static were safely tucked away in the shoebox for storage.  Now all I have left of the context by which I define myself is my identity as a girl longing for New York City, fiercely missing the chance to make a life there, and a photographer, without a definite future, desperate to take photographs, but stuck in the suburbs.  Those are the only things that still fit, because those are the pieces that were left behind when I moved away.  The reasons why I left still fit perfectly when I came back.  Maybe yours do too.

But New York is still there.  We are still here. We may be changed in the wake of this tragedy. We have all lost things in the last few months. For some us it is the simple sting of lost opportunity and missed closure,  for others it is the unrelenting ache of grief for departed loved ones. Either way this is not what we expected from this chapter of our lives.  But we have the chance of making the biggest impact at the start of things. In the wake of this Pandemic, the world will not be what it was before.  And maybe that’s a good thing. Or at least we have the opportunity to make it a good thing as we determine the new shape of society.

The world needs us more now than ever before. We are creative and able to think outside the box, vital skills for a world in freefall.  We have the opportunity to create a better future. But how you may ask. How can we change the world when we are just starting out? We set out to be artists and documentarians, educators, journalists, and tastemakers.  Audacity is the price of admission. This is our beginning, it is time to seize the day.

I have always loved Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules from 1967. They were posted all around the art rooms in my high school and you can always find a copy pinned up on the board in Print Finishing. Rule #1 was “Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while” I will be forever grateful to DPI for being a place I could trust for the last 4 years.

Another rule may fit better for the next chapter. Rule #4 proudly proclaims that you should “Consider everything an experiment”. In our newly minted, unmapped reality, I think that is priceless advice. These are our first steps into an uncharted future.

You know I never understood why it was called a “commencement” since it happened at the end of both the year, and of college. But I think I understand it now. To commence is to begin,  and though this may be a strange time, and many things are coming to an end, it also marks the commencement of a new era. An era which we have the power to shape. So let’s go forth and use this liminal time to re-shape the world in a positive way.