The Good Wife actress and Juilliard alum and commencement speaker Christine Baranski congratulated this year’s “ecstatic” graduates on “getting into—and out of—Juilliard” at the school’s 111th commencement ceremony, on May 20.
In her speech, Baranski (Group 3) noted that she was already working at the time of her own graduation, in 1974, so she didn’t get to pick up her diploma. Then, she said “about 15 years ago, President Polisi very graciously decided to surprise me and award me my actual diploma after all those years at an alumni event in L.A. Alas, as he was making his surprise presentation after lunch, I unwittingly was in the ladies room—M.I.A. again.” This time around, new honorary doctorate firmly in hand and tongue in cheek, Baranski thanked Polisi “for not giving up on me.”
In fact, Baranski told the packed Alice Tully Hall audience and live-stream viewers, life is “all about showing up. That is our passion, our task, our responsibility, our privilege. Our Presence, with a capital P, is required,” she said. “We get to show up in the fullness of our being and present not just our talent and technique, but the depth of our character, the force of our personality, the breadth of our life experience. … And this is worthy of a lifetime of discipline and exploration.”
Baranski wound up by noting that 46 years after she and her widowed mother went to the Algonquin Hotel to toast to her getting into Juilliard, she was going to return to the Algonquin after the ceremony with family and friends to offer toasts to her mother, to Juilliard and her teachers, and, to the graduating class of 2016. “May you show up and make your presence felt as artists in the world for many decades to come!”
In his speech, Polisi told the graduates that they were entering “a world that is currently short on empathy, nuance, and civility,” but that “we remain hopeful because we believe that you will use your persuasive power as artists to realize positive change in the time ahead and that our global population will embrace your humanity in all its forms.”
Baranski was one of five honorary degree recipients; the others were actress Cicely Tyson, dance world luminary Sylvia Waters (BS ’62, dance), pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. At the last minute, Shorter was sidelined by illness and unable to attend the ceremony. Polisi noted that Shorter was slated to be watching the live-stream of the ceremony and said he hoped the musician would appreciate the ceremony’s musical interlude: Shorter’s “Ju-Ju” performed by a jazz student combo.
Of the 275 graduates, 110 received bachelor’s degrees or diplomas, 145 got master’s degrees or Graduate Diplomas, 11 were awarded Artist Diplomas, and 9 received doctorates. Overall this year Juilliard had 835 full-time students; 29 percent were international.