Oct 11, 2013

R. Luke DuBois: Goucher College Graduate Commencement Address, 8.4.13


R. Luke DuBois: Goucher College Graduate Commencement Address, 8.4.13

To the graduates assembled here, I say congratulations.

Your school is proud of you, your families and friends are proud of you, and I am proud to be here to be the very first to welcome you to the brilliant, creative, overqualified, underappreciated, and underpaid future which awaits you.

Commencement means beginning, so my plan, if I can, is to share briefly with you some of the things that I’ve noticed over the years that might help you to begin.  I do this fully aware that this beginning is slightly artificial.  You are all adults, many with fully-fledged professional careers in your fields.  In a lot of ways, most of you are already doing what you’re supposed to be beginning today, and have been for years.  Yet you have all decided, for one reason or another, to push yourselves forward, to learn new things, and to make major sacrifices and investments in your time, your money, your brainpower, your willpower, and your self-esteem to return to school, and devote yourself to learning how better to educate, to create art, to sustain, advocate for, and preserve our cultural heritage, and to tell the stories of things that matter to the world in which we find ourselves today. We celebrate your accomplishments knowing full well that it had to begin with a very hard decision; as president Unger said in his opening remarks, this decision comes with risk; time spent in study is time not spent with your families, or on pursuing a promotion at work.

I don’t have to remind you that this community of graduate students at Goucher is very special, not only in your dedication, but in your paths forward.  You are all kindred spirits, pursuing careers in fields that our society undervalues and takes for granted.  The six professions represented here are all engaged in the selfless sharing of knowledge in a world where “selfless” and “sharing” is in short supply.   Those of you who are teachers need to be not just educators, but advocates for your students in a country where our leaders see success in data and not knowledge, figures but not experience, and think that test scores are the sole metric of a bright future.  The artists and writers among you will be working in fields where funding is imperiled at every turn, cynicism reigns, and your craft will be constantly questioned.  Those of you working in cultural sustainability, arts administration, and historic preservation have the hardest task; our obsession with progress has critically damaged our ability to preserve and defend our past, present, and future culture.  You all have your work cut out for you, and I am in awe of your dedication.
So what’s the good news in all of this?
The good news is that all of you will find strength from the communities and subjects with which you engage, drawing power from your own creativity, commitment, and passion.  So I give you, briefly, some things that may help you along the way.


You are going, at some point in your life, to push up against an establishment that doesn’t appreciate or understand something that to you is blindingly obvious and simply common sense.  You will see something in our schools that needs to be fixed; a story that needs to be told; a community or arts organization under pressure that is losing itself; a neighborhood that needs to be preserved; an artistic vision that demands creative expression because it needs to be said and needs to be said right now.  People are going to tell you no.  They are going to cite rules, precedent, process, byzantine procedures; they will tell you that you are out of line, or, worst of all, that you need to get in line.  Remember the following.

You are all very dangerous people.  For if we look at history, real change comes not from the powerful and the establishment.  If you are safe, you don’t need to change… the status quo is your ally.  You are protected by it.

But you, my friends, will have no protection, and need no protection, because you are working to make the world a better place, by sharing your knowledge, and your inspiration, with others to the widest possible audience, and to empower others in the communities in which you work to do the same.  And because you are working in and for these communities, you have the weapon of local knowledge and local trust.

When someone gives you data, fight them with experience.

History is made by the unprotected.


You have the tremendous advantage of coming from programs here at Goucher that celebrate interdisciplinary thinking as a core value.  Don’t lose this value; for the rest of your life you will be labeled; you will be defined; you will be told what you are and why you should stay there and do as you are told.  You push back by living your lives, and honing your craft, in the intersections, at the crossroads, and in the cracks between traditional ways of thinking and traditional modes of expression.

To the artists, arts administrators, and writers in the room, I say this: genre creates ghetto.  I say this especially to those of you in the digital arts, a field that will be defined by you and you alone, on your own terms.  There are no record stores any more; there is no excuse to have to put a label on your work that says “file under”.  The art world, and the music industry, and the publishing industry, have pocket genres for what we do.  The geniuses I admire in my life push back on this relentlessly.  They are filmmakers who edit their films from the stage; instrumental musicians who seamlessly integrate 18th century and 21st century technology in performance; artists who used to design toys, and educators using 19th century circus arts to teach physics to high school students.  There are no labels for these things, and these things need no labels.

To the educators, preservationists, and cultural sustainers in the room, you honor this same sentiment by looking beyond clean distinctions among your professions to reach out and tear down walls.  The future of education in the United States depends on teaching critical thinking among and between disciplines, not within them.  Our architectural and cultural heritage depends on the collaboration and cooperation of built environment professionals, policymakers, arts organizations, historical societies, and empowered actors in the communities put most at risk by homogenization, gentrification, and change for change’s sake.  This is interdisciplinarity at its best; you have this within you, and you need to bring it to the table every day, by making everything you do as inclusive as possible.


If you want your voice to be heard, you need to have all the tools available to you.

Whether a creator, or an educator, or an advocate, you are all responsible for grappling with tools for communication, for dissemination, for virtual community-building that twenty or thirty years ago either didn’t exist or were the responsibility of someone else with specialized knowledge.  To the graduates in the room pursing careers in arts administration; to the writers who want to reach a wider audience; to the artists who want to exhibit often and widely, to the advocates of cultural communities in peril, buildings at risk, or students in need: your voice will be limited if you do not seize your means of production.

To succeed, you need to have everything you need to know to do everything you need to do.  The business of your professions has become, today, as important as the professions themselves.  You will have to be, at various points in your life, your own executive director, creative advisor, financial officer, communications director, and, of course, your own unpaid intern, often all at once.

Your programs here have prepared you for this, and you will take this expertise with you wherever you go.


You will all be under tremendous pressure to perform.  You will be expected to be more agile, more responsive, more responsible, and more tuned in than any generation before you.  We live in a world that is drowning in its own data stream, plugged into a twenty-four hour cycle of media and information.  You will have to make sense of all of this.  It is overwhelming, especially in the arts; in culture; and in education.  You will always feel that you are running out of time and that there are a million things to do.

Leonard Bernstein, a man I’ve always admired, was no stranger to pressure.  And he said that “to achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”

You will create these plans as a natural outgrowth of your own creativity and inspiration.  These plans will be ambitious, but if they truly are plans, there will be an order of execution that will follow naturally from them to make everything happen.  The first time you undertake a project that magically comes together at the last minute, you will count yourself lucky.  The second time it happens, you will curse yourself that you are always rushing at the end.  After a few more times, you will realize that we naturally gauge our ambitions to our capacity to deliver on them.  Our minds and our bodies are beautifully calibrated; you know more about how well you function under pressure than anyone else… push yourself, and you will find that this feeling of running out of time, is not only perfectly natural, but can be the only way you have to get the best from yourself.


There is a beautiful Turkish proverb that translates “the stone will not move from its place until head is put to head.”  And while we place tremendous hope and faith in the genius artist, laboring in solitude creating her latest work, the truth of the matter is: you will get nothing done alone.

Another way of looking at this notion, for those who prefer pop culture to proverbs: during the mid-1980s, the great American, and fellow New Jersey-an, Bruce Springsteen would preface every live performance of the song “Born To Run” with a simple quote.  He would say the following:

Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.

For those of you engaging in the tremendously challenging work of the non-profit arts sector, remember: united you stand, divided you fall.  You are not, and cannot be, in competition, and cultural ecosystems cannot sustain themselves with only one organization.  Collaborate, cooperate, undertake joint programming often, and respect and learn from your colleagues in your wider community.

To the artists in the room, you will sooner or later get the idea that you need a gallery to succeed.  Find some friends, and start one.  Do not look to the international art world for structural insight, but to the artists of cities like New Orleans, where the St. Claude arts district is full of artist cooperatives that are self-sustaining and mutually reinforcing.

To the writers in the room, the feedback of your peers is essential, and your generosity in providing criticism and support will be the one thing everyone thinks of first when your name comes up in conversation.

For those working to preserve, support, and sustain our culture, the beautiful and varied ecosystem of cultural discourse has many players, and their worst enemy is not outside pressures but internal dissent, mistrust, and lapses in communication.  You are responsible for crafting and delivering on meaningful, respectful consensus.

And for those of you who have chosen the noble profession of teacher, you have chosen a path where the sharing of knowledge is your stock in trade.  Remember to always be open to change, and to new avenues of inquiry, and remember that, whatever the numbers say, the delivery of experiences to your students, through collaboration with people and institutions in your community, is far more important than the delivery of facts.

And so I leave you with this thought.  I left school over a decade ago, and that experience seems now like a film I saw once, about a different person with different aspirations and life goals.  This will happen to you as well, as this commencement is both the beginning of your life beyond graduate school but also the beginning of a new phase of learning and self-exploration, supported by what you have learned during your time at Goucher.  What stayed with me most of all, from my time in school, was not any single class, or anything specific that was said to me by the faculty I worked with.  What stayed with me was the community of amazing individuals I studied alongside, the people I admire, respect, and depend on every day.  You, all of you, are now forever colleagues; and so you must keep in touch with one another, support one another, and be each other’s brain trust, critics, and sounding boards in the years to come.

Congratulations to you all.  I wish every single one of you the very best, and look forward to hearing of all the amazing things you are bound to accomplish.

3746777_300R. Luke DuBois is a composer, artist, and performer who explores the temporal, verbal, and visual structures of cultural and personal ephemera. He holds a doctorate in music composition from Columbia University, and has lectured and taught worldwide on interactive sound and video performance. He has collaborated on interactive performance, installation, and music production work with many artists and organizations including Toni Dove, Todd Reynolds, Jamie Jewett, Bora Yoon, Michael Joaquin Grey, Matthew Ritchie, Elliott Sharp, Michael Gordon, Maya Lin, Bang on a Can, Engine 27, Harvestworks, and LEMUR, and was the director of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra for its 2007 season.

Stemming from his investigations of “time-lapse phonography,” his work is a sonic and encyclopedic relative to time-lapse photography. Just as a long camera exposure fuses motion into a single image, his projects reveal the average sonority, visual language, and vocabulary in music, film, text, or cultural information. Exhibitions of his work include: the Insitut Valencià d’Art Modern, Spain; 2008 Democratic National Convention, Denver; Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis; San Jose Museum of Art; National Constitution Center, Philadelphia; Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, Seoul; 2007 Sundance Film Festival; the Sydney Film Festival; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; and PROSPECT.2 New Orleans. His work and writing has appeared in print and online in the New York Times, National Geographic, and Esquire Magazine.

An active visual and musical collaborator, DuBois is the co-author of Jitter, a software suite for the real-time manipulation of matrix data developed by San Francisco-based software company Cycling’74. He appears on nearly twenty-five albums both individually and as part of the avant-garde electronic group The Freight Elevator Quartet. He currently performs as part of Bioluminescence, a duo with vocalist Lesley Flanigan that explores the modality of the human voice, and in Fair Use, a trio with Zach Layton and Matthew Ostrowski, that looks at our accelerating culture through elecronic performance and remixing of cinema.

DuBois has lived for the last twenty years in New York City. He is the director of the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and is on the Board of Directors of the ISSUE Project Room. His records are available on Caipirinha/Sire, Liquid Sky, C74, and Cantaloupe Music. His artwork is represented by bitforms gallery in New York City.


Goucher's Digital Arts graduate program is the only program of its kind in the nation. Our multidisciplinary program treats music, animation, design, computer programming, web development, entrepreneurship, new media studies, and other related fields as one larger convergent discipline.

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