Commencement honorees cross genres

By Lauren Kelly

The annual commencement honorees have been announced, and those chosen will be recognized during the 2009 Commencement ceremony at UIC Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave., on May 16 and 17.

This year there are seven honorees, each of which was chosen by the college as exemplifying Columbia’s ideal and spirit. One honoree will speak at each of this year’s three commencement ceremonies.

The ceremony on May 16 will honor interdisciplinary artist and major contributor to the Fluxus art movement, Alison Knowles, who will speak, along with founder of the School of Audio Engineering Dr. Tom Miser, and Dr. Kunihiko Ukifune, who is a leading member of the International Education Center.

During the first ceremony on May 17 at 10 a.m., acclaimed author Ray Bradbury will speak, and both he and Carla Delfos will be honorees. Bradbury penned Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine, and is considered to be one of the greatest writers of speculative fiction in the past century. Delfos is an advocate for higher arts education and directs the European League of Industries of the Arts.

Bradbury’s biographer Sam Weller is a fiction writing faculty member at Columbia. Also, Bradbury’s most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, is one of the books featured for this year’s The Big Read, a literary initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Columbia College Library is participating this year in the events designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.

“What we love is when there’s really an organic connection from Columbia,” said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs.

The last ceremony, to take place May 17 at 3 p.m., will acknowledge the remaining two honorees, Trisha Brown and Lee Berk.

Berk is the acting chair of Berklee College of Music, the former institution of Columbia President Warrick L. Carter.

Brown, who appeared at Columbia with her dance company in October 2008 as part of the Presentation Series from the Dance Department, is “one of the foremost practitioners of post-modern dance in the world,” said Bonnie Brooks, Dance Department chair.

Columbia’s intent is for students to be “authors of their times.” Brooks said Brown “is that and has been for almost 50 years now.”

As seen by the chosen honorees, Commencement at Columbia is not, by any means, a traditional affair.

There will be many student performances throughout the weekend. The winner of a poetry competition will read their piece to the audience, and there will be a music and theater performance 45 minutes before the event.

Commencement will kick off with a student-made film documenting Manifest, which will take place the day before the ceremony. Students will stay up most of the night editing and producing the video, which will be screened on large monitors as students enter.

Kelly said instead of the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation theme, the graduates will march into the pavilion to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” in what he described as “a jazzed up version of the hip-hop version of the rock version. And the crowd goes nuts.”

Most honorary degree recipients are also nontraditional figures in the arts. Awards have been given out since 1964. In past years, honorees have included Dan Rather, Russell Simmons, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Ralph Nader, Maya Angelou, Studs Terkel, Rosa Parks, Duke Ellington and Buddy Guy, among many others.

When Guy was honored, he took out an acoustic guitar and played for the audience.

The guests are encouraged to “not get weighed down by the ceremony, but to speak truth to us in any shape or form they choose,” Kelly said. “Anyone who goes to our ceremony, almost without fail, comes away saying ‘Wow, that was incredible.'”