The sun shone brightly outside Saturday but inside the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School auditorium the spotlight was on the 25 members of the Class of 2011 graduating from Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts.  Frequently described during the afternoon ceremony as an “extraordinary” class, the graduates comprised four with Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degrees majoring in drawing, 10 in painting, and eight in sculpture.  Three Post-Baccalaureate certificates were also awarded at the graduation.

After a brief welcome by Board of Trustees Chairman Martin Wolman, College President and CEO Debra Petke opened the formal proceedings by noting that it was Dean Laura Zarrow’s final day and wishing her well in her future career.  She then presented the Distinguished Service in Art Education Award to the founder of the Long Island Academy of Fine Art in Glen Cove, N.Y., Robert Armetta, who she said, “embodies the three dimensions of a good art educator.”  Petke elaborated on these explaining Armetta’s own work is “widely exhibited … he teaches them to really see … and works to ensure that these [artistic] values endure.”

Zarrow continued the presentations by making various awards to the graduating class culminating in the presentation of the prestigious John Stobart Fellowship to Richard Lacey, a 2007 graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

Zarrow then introduced the College Alumni Association speaker Eloise Gada, whose, “Passion and brilliance,” she commended, along with her, “Talent, training, hard work and enthusiasm.”  After graduating from Lyme Academy College also as a Stobart Fellowship winner, Gada obtained an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she again was an award winner. Gada currently teaches ceramics and sculpture at East Lyme High School.

Gada’s “simple and straightforward” message to the students, repeated many times, was, “You never know where a visual arts education will take you.”  Urging them to attend graduate school, she alluded to some of the achievements she was aware BFA graduates now had on their resumes, such as decorating a vintage truck and then selling cup cakes from it, creating the tallest bread sculpture in the world and “designing art-inspired, high fashion sneakers.”

Continuing her theme, Gada urged the new graduates to “Try to be open to how you define success,” telling them, “Be flexible, be entrepreneurs,” but warning against painting, “Old guys in the nude,” saying simply, “No one is going to buy them!”

Gada then cautioned the graduates with the words, “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” adding, “Life is too short.  Have fun. Be active in your community.”  She suggested they should “Strive to make different kinds of work,” but always ask themselves, “Why am I doing this?” and moreover, “Be 100 per cent honest with your answer.”  Finally, advising the graduates not to worry if their careers took unexpected twists and turns, Gada ended as she had begun firmly reminding the Class of 2011 that, “You never know where your education is going to take you.”

President Petke introduced the commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient as someone who, “When Expressionism was on the rise,  … made a heroic effort to retain the figure.”  Acclaimed New York City-based painter Lennart Anderson has enjoyed a long and distinguished art career.  A recipient of many prizes, awards and grants, his work has been extensively exhibited, and he has taught at Yale, Columbia and Princeton Universities.  Petke summed Anderson up as someone with, “A classical illusion but a modern temperament,” adding that he has brought, “a contemporary sensibility to representational and figurative art.”

Anderson opened by telling that Class of 2011 that he really had just one thing to say to them, instructing them to “Keep your friends … they’re very important … they may be helpful … they should be loved.”  Contrary to his opening remark, Anderson, in fact, continued to give a series of nuggets of advice to the graduates including a similar theme to the previous speaker that, “The idea of an idea is very important,” but, “You never know how that idea will develop,” comparing an idea to a boat being pushed out into the water.

He also told the students that the most important part of art school is the “basic class,” and never to forget it, reminding them that art is a matter of “large, medium and small,” and “similarities and differences.”  Urging them not to lose “the joy of painting,” he ended by wishing them simply, “Good luck.”

The student speaker was Nathan Perry, who had received both the Excellence in Painting and the Diana Atwood Johnson Leadership Awards.  A clearly emotional Perry recalled that his peers had been used through their college life to having “space to work and time to work.”  He noted although that was about to change, “What really makes you get on out in the world is what you do tomorrow.”  Perry concluded by reminding his fellow graduates, “You’re here because you love what you do … and just keep doing it!”

Before the degrees were conferred, Petke spoke to the class directly reminding them that after Steve Jobs had been fired from Apple before subsequently being re-employed, he described that post0firing time as allowing him to re-discover, “the lightness of being a beginner again.”  Translating this message for the Class of 2011, she told them, “This moment of being less sure about everything is a gift.  Let the uncertainty not pull you down but rather propel you.”  She ended saying, “Let your time here be a springboard for your future,” and telling them one final time, “You are an extraordinary class.”

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