Stefani Robinson ’14 said it was very surreal to be the commencement speaker at Emerson’s graduation ceremony on Sunday. She couldn’t believe that she was being asked to speak. It was an amazing honor.
While it was surreal for Robinson, an Emmy-nominated co-showrunner, executive producer, and writer for FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, to be asked to speak at her alma mater — it was also unusual to have a virtual graduation ceremony — the first ever virtual commencement ceremony in Emerson College’s history.
The ceremony was livestreamed on YouTube on Sunday morning and is now available to view. The ceremony honored 954 undergraduate and 408 graduate students of the Class of 2021. In addition to Robinson’s address, the ceremony included remarks from President Lee Pelton, Provost Michaele Whelan, student speeches and awards, faculty congratulations, and a video montage.
Robinson said she didn’t have decades of experience to pass along, but in-progress wisdom.
“My first piece of this ‘in-progress’ wisdom is this: practice being comfortable with where you’re at,” said Robinson. “That doesn’t mean to settle. It doesn’t mean abandon your ambitions. It means, be patient with yourself. It means to play to the height of your intelligence.”
She spoke about the ups and downs of life and career: sometimes you’ve got to work hard and work late, and it’s also OK to take your foot off the gas and play video games with your friends. You’ll have self-doubt, but don’t be scared to ask for help.
“My second piece of ‘in-progress’ wisdom: Get good at knowing what you want,” said Robinson. “Daydream. Don’t edit your fantasies and ambitions because you think it doesn’t fit with someone else’s view of the world. It’s futile. A waste of time. Because you never really know what someone is thinking anyway, do you?”
She added that life is a balancing act.
“I’m still figuring out when to work. When to rest. When to say ‘so what?’ And if any of you successfully figure this all out, find some way to get in touch with me because I am clueless,” said Robinson. “But what I am starting to suspect
is that I – any of us – aren’t ever going to strike the balance just right. And I suspect that’s okay. Perhaps it’s all just in-progress. We get just a little bit better at it all. “
In a video montage students spoke of the thing they’re most proud of during their time at Emerson, which included: participating in Cabaret of Color, winning EVVYs, serving as presidents of organizations, choreographing a musical, winning awards, working with Emerson Stage, making Dean’s List, reporting for the Berkeley Beacon, working with EIV, watching their play be read on stage, and so much more.
Naomi Jones ’21 provided the undergraduate commencement address, and spoke about the adversity the class faced, and the ingenuity they employed to foster new ways to do things to adapt to the pandemic.
“You are the axis of social improvement. You are the dreamers. The motivators,” said Jones. “Some of you are lifelong advocates. And some of you are lifelong learners. And that is what the world needs. People like you and I who will continue and will not stop pushing until they’ve beaten their own limitations.”
Felix Bieneman ’21 provided the Marlboro Commencement Address. Bieneman started their college career at Marlboro, and said that the lessons they learned at Marlboro is something they can take into the future.
“The world will keep changing for better and for worse. If we engage deeply in the people and the causes we care about, we might be able to shape that change, and hopefully for the better,” said Bieneman.
Pelton provided his last commencement address as Emerson’s president. He repeated advice he recently read from a book about the 2008 economic crash: “Drop a little good in the hole before you go. That’s what I want you to do.”
And like the graduates, Pelton is saying goodbye to Emerson.
“At Emerson I have received much more than I have given. Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve as your president. Let us now walk in the light of the new day,” said Pelton.