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Otis College Commencement Sends Forth New Artists and Designers

Halley Sutton ‘18

Otis College of Art and Design graduated another class of talented creatives on Sunday, May 12, 2019, at the Marsee Auditorium at El Camino College. The ceremony was overseen by Interim President Randy Lavender and Interim Provost Kim Russo and featured a commencement speech by MacArthur “Genius” grant and award-winning choreographer, performer, and author, Elizabeth Streb. Streb received an honorary degree alongside Otis College alumnus and artist, Gajin Fujita. 



As the auditorium filled, those in attendance were greeted by a slideshow highlighting memorable events and student achievements from the prior year. The slideshow included photographs of student work, candid snaps of classrooms, and memorable campus activities throughout the year, including events from the Otis College Centennial.

Faculty members recognized with awards

Lavender praised the “remarkable level of accomplishment, critical thought, social responsibility, and skill with so many art and design media” that the graduates evinced. He noted the rare kind of commitment and excitement about artistic work that was evident across all majors and all levels of the students graduating.

Lavender recognized three faculty members with awards for exceptional teaching and work with the student body. Those nominations came from current students, faculty members, department chairs, and alumni. Soo Kim, Fine Arts, was honored with the Distinguished Educator Award. Silas Munro, Communication Arts, and George Fuentes, Digital Media, received Teaching Excellence Awards. “These educators consistently motivate students, inspire departmental colleagues, and make a lasting impression in their field,” Lavender said.

Excellent student work honored

Interim Provost Russo recognized students who had received 2019 Academic Excellence Awards. The recipients were selected by each department for their “academic achievement, quality of artistic work, and personal character,” Russo said.

The 2019 undergraduate Academic Excellence Awards went to Xiaoling Su, Architecture/Landscape/Interiors; Michel Manalese, Communication Arts with an emphasis in Illustration; Dani Grossman, Communication Arts with an emphasis in Graphic Design; Waranya Chuencheevit, Digital Media with an emphasis in Motion Design; Yumi Yamazaki, Digital Media with an emphasis in Animation; Jeanette Marie Kulick, Digital Media with an emphasis in Game and Entertainment Design; Brielle Eshenour, Fashion Design; Rosie Galanie, Fine Arts with an emphasis in Painting; Alex Len Mediate, Fine Arts with an emphasis in Photography; Amanda DaSilva, Product Design; and Robert L. Squires II, Toy Design.

The 2019 graduate Academic Excellence Awards recipients were awarded to Matt Hollis, Graduate Fine Art; Eamon Smyth, Graduate Graphic Design; and Kyle Raymond Fitzpatrick, Graduate Writing.

Valedictorian urges high standards past graduation

The 2019 valedictory award went to Rosie Galanis, Fine Arts. Russo noted Galanis’s continuously stellar academic performance, and the exceptional quality of her work, which examines the duality of life at macro and micro levels. Russo read a quote from the head of the Fine Arts department, Meg Cranston, about Galanis: “Rosie’s work is accomplished, coherent, and relevant. She sets a standard of excellence to which others aspire,” and Russo added that her work embodies the highest aspirations of Otis College by enriching the world through creativity, skill, and vision. 

Galanis addressed her fellow classmates, reflecting on how the experience at Otis gave her the opportunity to grow and evolve and immerse herself in her artistic practice. She recalled a moment in a challenging class when her work was challenged, and how that challenge was a call to prove her own self-doubt about her artistic capabilities wrong. “I worked harder on a body of work than I ever had before…it truly allowed me to see that the person for whom I was putting in countless hours of work was, and will always be, myself,” Galanis said.

She lauded the “intense drive and commitment needed to pursue creative endeavors” as something that all students in Otis have in common, and urged her classmates to maintain the standards of integrity and artistic passion that they nurtured inside Otis College’s walls as they move forth from them. “We can all rest assured that we are prepared to be professionals outside the small world of our nurturing campus,” Galanis said.

Honorary degree recipients offer advice to graduating students

Gail Buchalter, chair of the Otis College Board of Trustees, awarded the College’s highest academic honor, an honorary doctorate degree to Gaijin Fujita. Fujita’s work “offers a vision for new and groundbreaking iconography that makes connections across eras, cultures, and media,” Buchalter said. Fujita’s practice started with graffiti tagging crews KGB and K2S in high school, and was honed during his time as an undergraduate at Otis College. His work has been displayed at LACMA, Art Basel, the public collections of the Getty Research Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and more.

Fujita thanked a number of artistic mentors and colleagues, and in particular his family. Noting the celebration of Mother’s Day, Fujita gave a moving tribute to “the rock and pillar” of his life, his mother, for her support of his artistic dreams. Fujita urged the class of 2019 to harness the creative power they all possessed to help transform the world. “I feel creativity is one of the most powerful human qualities and abilities,” Fujita said. “Keep harnessing the power of creativity to transform the future to live on in an even better world tomorrow,” Fujita said in his closing remarks.

Bronya Galef, Otis College trustee and Board Chair Emerita, introduced Elizabeth Streb for both her honorary doctorate and her commencement address. Streb’s work “reminds us all that humans have the potential to take flight fearlessly, to fall forwards and backwards with hearts leaping,” Galef said, adding that Streb “surpassed boundaries to map new artistic territory.” Streb has performed all over the world, including at the Cirque du Soleil and the 2012 London Olympics.

“Don’t you just hate the word ‘no’? I do,” Streb said, urging graduates to consider a variety of reasons to ignore naysayers who might steer them from the path of continual exploration. Streb touched on personal moments when she had ignored a variety of “no’s,” and the quiet “yesses” she received that made it possible for her to achieve her artistic dreams. Streb urged the importance of finding your tribe as an artist. “Finding my tribe was essential to finding the path to my future,” Streb said. “You most likely have found your tribe right here at Otis,” she added.

Streb advised graduates to “pull your arrow back and aim it towards your dreams,” acknowledging that with the life of an artist comes sacrifices and the unknown. “Tim Cahill said, The explorer is a person who is lost. Be lost,” Streb said. “As you set your sails and angle them towards your dreams, remember, it’s your future and no one else’s. Pry the clenched fingers of other people’s hopes off your particular path,” she urged.

Following Streb’s speech, degrees were awarded to over 250 students from the graduate programs for Fine Arts, Graphic Design, and Writing, along with students from the undergraduate programs for Architecture/Landscapes/Interiors, Communication Arts, Digital Media, Fashion Design, Fine Arts, Product Design, and Toy Design. Finally, the moment the entire auditorium had been waiting for: up into the air went the mortarboards, and out into the world went a new slew of creative makers and thinkers, ready to build a bold, vibrant, and creative future.