University Of Southern California: School of Dramatic Arts Celebrates the Class of 2021

Device screens, social distance — and, certainly, COVID-19 — could not contain the excitement and joy felt during the School of Dramatic Arts’s virtual celebration of the Class of 2021 on Thursday.

“Today, as we celebrate and honor your work and achievements, we recognize that this School is a better place because of you,” said Vice Dean Lori Ray Fisher in her opening remarks at the ceremony.

As the second class to graduate during the pandemic, this particular group demonstrated resilience and creativity as they were challenged in their last academic year to adapt themselves and their craft to suit the digital frontier. Acting, writing, design and production students alike learned to push the boundaries of their artistry and refine their skills in unexpected ways.

“A profession like the one you will be pursuing requires the ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. It is a profession without a clear pathway. Only those with courage can succeed — those who are prepared for whatever challenges come their way. I know that you, our graduating class, are indeed ready to do so,” said SDA Interim Dean Elizabeth M. Daley to the Class of 2021.

The journey of the artist

Addressing the class as the keynote speaker, award-winning artist Colman Domingo imparted words of encouragement in “this critical time of transformation.”

“Consider this profession a service industry job — that’s the way I think it is. It is in service to the soul; to the soul of humanity; to inquire; to interrogate; to hold accountable; to entertain; to share our families, our knowledge, our wisdom, our pain, our triumph, our joys. That spirit of life. That’s what this journey is,” he said.

Watch the full keynote speech on YouTube.

Domingo, who will soon be joining SDA as a full-time faculty member, encouraged graduates to continue having the same energy and enthusiasm that first sparked their passion for storytelling and take it with them well into their careers.

“I’ve always been an artist that was drawn to experiences, whether it’s in the theatre, film or television: Who is going to challenge me and change me as a human being? I invite you to think about that as you leave this university and become part of this wonderful league, I believe, of superheroes and shamans who want to transform the world, who would like to leave some really beautiful, interesting, complicated and complex footprints and fingerprints all over this planet,” the actor, director, playwright and producer said.

“You are part of a great tradition. Continue to have respect for the work as you have respect for yourself and for others. Make this industry what you want it to be.”

From peer to peer

Following Domingo’s speech, elected student speakers from the bachelors and masters programs addressed their fellow graduates.

BA class speaker Jacob Litvack spoke to the tenacity of his class after having “filmed self-tapes, written plays, designed sets, called cues, all away from the comfort of our true home, the theatre.”

“But what do we still have after this whole year of online theatre school? Ourselves, and our truly amazing perseverance, inspiration and talent,” he said.

For BFA class speaker Zaira Paredes-Villegas, although social distancing and online learning were unexpected, the class made the best of it. “As a class, we have proven to come together in the good and the bad — time and time again. We stand up for what we believe in, we create in and out of the classroom, and we have become a part of each other throughout,” the stage management major said.

Class speakers for the Class of 2021
Class speakers for the Class of 2021. From top left, clockwise: Jacob Litvack, BA; Zaira Paredes-Villegas, BFA; Carlyn Flint, MFA Dramatic Writing; and Galen J. Williams, MFA Acting

As class representative for the MFA Dramatic Writing program, speaker Carlyn Flint shared her five values she wanted to hold on to as she enters the entertainment industry — including her No. 1 value: “It’s not just about entertainment.”

“This art — storytelling — is about healing. It’s about recognizing your own pain in another. It’s about community, collective joy, collective sorrow, collective recognition of our whole truth. Why do you think the first people a dictator silences are the artists? Because we heal. And when people heal, they gain power. I hope you recognize how important this job is, even when we’re entertaining,” the graduate said.

Imparting wisdom as the last class speaker, MFA Acting graduate Galen J. Williams reminded his peers that “with grace, with grit, with love, we made it.”

Also, as the Class of 2021 enters into the post-graduate world, he encouraged them “to root yourself in the notion that all things are working for your good. That rejection is not only redirection, but it’s also protection from spaces that aren’t meant for you to shine and thrive in. The wins and the losses are all here to shape us into the brightest, boldest, most authentic version of ourselves, and the world deserves to see that from us.”