By David Perry
The Art & Design Department transformed the opening of its annual end-of-the-year student art show into an online celebration for a class of 46 graduates whose last semester of college has been disrupted, but not defined, by the coronavirus pandemic.
The May 7 opening reception was streamed live on Facebook and included video messages from faculty, staff, community members and recent alumni that were infused with optimism and plaudits for a diverse palette of student art. The reception was recorded so people could watch it online later (in the first 12 hours after it aired, it drew 2,000 views).
The reception also served as the launch for the year-end student exhibition, which showcases each student’s capstone project in the bachelor of fine arts program.
Fittingly, this year’s exhibition was called RESILIENCE.
In opening remarks to kick off the reception, Art & Design Department Chair Ellen Wetmore noted the graduates were missing the traditional emotions, customs and goodbyes that are part of Commencement season. Instead, 2020 will be remembered for “so many reasons, many of which carry sadness and disappointment, but this class of seniors should be remembered for their resilience. With barely a stumble, they transitioned to remote learning with grace. They brought positivity and cheer to Zoom calls. They adapted, bent and flexed their skills in unprecedented ways,” she said.
The students exhibited “grit, persistence and motivation in a time where it would have been easy to crumble,” Wetmore added, proving they could meet “unthinkable challenges and displaying determination and maturity far beyond their experience.”
The reception opened like pages from a yearbook, with a slew of photographs of students gathered everywhere from Dugan Hall basement classrooms to studying abroad. Then came the pre-recorded messages of congratulations.
Reflecting on their final weeks, students said they had to overcome numerous challenges due to the disruption from the pandemic, but they found bright spots, too.
“It almost feels surreal,” said Colleen McDonagh, a studio art major. “I don’t think anyone expected their last semester to be like this, but I’m happy that I’ve finished all my work.”
Kimberly Cosgrove, among the university’s first batch of students to earn a degree in graphic design, said she’s “lucky” her professors worked to “give us the best year possible. Of course, everyone would rather celebrate together, but that’s life. You can’t predict it. You just have to adapt to the changes and always make the most of what you’re given. That’s what we’ve done.”
“It almost doesn’t feel real,” said Abagail Taper, who majored in animation and interactive media. “The way this has gone isn’t at all the way I had imagined it. I feel like I already graduated and no one told me that it was over.”
McDonagh struggled to keep focus during the semester’s homestretch. “My room is also my studio, so I have distractions everywhere,” she said. “It’s hard to find balance when you’re at home.”
Taper said she and others working on 3D-animated shorts missed access to the computer labs.
“Ideally, we would have used multiple computers to render out our scenes to save some time,” she said. Staying focused was also challenging for her. “Working from home has its own array of distractions when you live with four other people.”
But good things came of the quarantine, said Taper. The website for graduating seniors “will be up indefinitely, showcasing our work. This was something never given to seniors before. I think it worked out great this year,” she said.
Cosgrove agreed. “Our work will gain even more exposure. It will live beyond the college setting, which is a huge opportunity,” she said. “Though this year has had its challenges, it has also presented many amazing opportunities we might never have had. There is far too much to be grateful for. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
Wetmore also emphasized the positive. “We see your hard work,” she told the soon-to-be graduates. “We all experienced the unique challenges of this spring together. And you know what? You beat it. You made it. You’re here. You’re going to graduate.”