Photo by Rene Perez
The poet, performer, and artist Patti Smith addressed Pratt Institute's 121st commencement ceremony on May 17 at Radio City Music Hall. Smith received an honorary doctoral degree alongside former New York City Landmarks Commissioner Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, novelist Jonathan Lethem, architect Daniel Libeskind, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)director Glenn Lowry, and film director Steven Soderbergh.
In her speech, Smith offered advice on everything from artistic collaboration to dental care. She then reminisced about her connection with Pratt.
“Many of my friends went, and I pursued them, and spent a lot of time in Brooklyn on the Pratt campus,” she said. Among Smith’s closest friends was Pratt alumnus the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Smith also performed two songs— “Wing” and “My Blakean Year”—accompanied by Lenny Kaye, lead guitarist of the Patti Smith Band.
Longtime champion of the arts Diamonstein-Spielvogel welcomed graduates “to a world of infinite possibility” in which they should engage in public life.
Novelist Lethem said, “I hesitate to dispense wisdom to those who have really demonstrated greater wisdom than I did at the corresponding age by allowing yourself to arrive at a moment like this and wear a robe like this one so much sooner than I managed.”
Architect Libeskind, referring to Pratt as “a school I have always admired,” told graduates, “If you pursue your dreams and do what you love, you can never fail.”
MoMA director Lowry was honored to receive his degree, he said, because “Pratt’s tradition of distinction has set a standard that all of us in the art world aspire to.”
Finally, film director Soderbergh gave a list of 17 things he’d learned since the last time he wore a cap and gown—when he graduated from high school. The last item was, “Patti Smith is very cool.”