Hello Students, Faculty, Parents and Dragged-Along Siblings of the School of the Arts-
My name is Hailey Lapin and tonight it is an honor and a privilege to speak before you on behalf on the Department of Theatre. Now, as a theatre performance major, you probably expect me to break into song or recite some Shakespearean verse. Well, I did the song thing earlier and as for the verse… I just have nothing prepared (reveals a lengthy stack of note cards or a really long scroll or something).
Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. I have prepared the lyrics to Vitamin C’s “Graduation” and will recite as follows… just kidding.
Horseplay aside, the School of the Arts means so much to me because throughout my four years here at the University of Kansas I treasure my memories of creative collaboration. Where else do the best and brightest of the KU community achieve artistic glory under the shared purpose of relaying the human experience? I myself just closed my final production as a theatre major on this blue stage less than two weeks ago.
Yes, my friends, the curtain of our KU career is closing. Yes, that was a theatre pun. Speaking of theatre, did you know Paul Silvia of the University of North Carolina-Greenboro recently conducted a study surveying college undergraduates of their self-reported “happiness level” while working on their degree. Guess the major of the students who were happiest? I’ll give you a big hint, it rhymes with “smart.”
Yes, it is the pursuit and study of the craft of ART that made them happy, that makes US happier for it. We should be our pursuing objectives that make us happy, should we not? Then why do the four degrees of the School of the Arts routinely rank as some of the “worst college majors” to study in Forbes Magazine?
You see, the metric Forbes uses for “Worst College Major” (in air quotes) is something called ROI, or Return on Investment. It’s loose marketing mumbo jumbo jargon thrown around in my other major, Journalism (another booming industry, by the way) that measures the greatest achievable reward for a given financial investment. But how does one define “reward.” What is “financial investment” supposed to mean? We are artists! We don’t do math stuff? We are the creators and expressers of the human experience! We’re here! Our white tassels prove something Forbes magazine cannot measure.
What Forbes cannot measure is spending so much time in your studio you’re not sure what day it is or if your diet consisting entirely of snacks from the Art & Design café and Jimmy Johns is a sustainable life choice.
What Forbes cannot measure is the feeling when you present your original choreography at a regional conference and win recognition. The emotion telling your parents you booked a role in a professional dance company alongside one of your best friends.
What Forbes cannot measure is staying up all night rendering and resetting scratch disks to finish your final film project. You’ve logged and transferred all night. You’re a working, happy artist, and there’s no metric for that in Forbes’ formula.
Yes, Forbes can track our future earnings, but it cannot measure our training. It can’t take away the projects, pieces and performances that make us the artists we are today.
For me, Forbes couldn’t tell when a young girl took a kindergarten musical theatre class at Worth Tryell Studios in Whippany, NJ and 12 years later told her parents she still, after all this time, wanted to be an actress. There was no press conference when my parents told me “Cool. Do what you love, love what you do. Life is good to you, Hailey.”
You see, I came to this University as a freshman and becoming a part of the ridiculous, hilarious, unconventional family that is Murphy High. I took an acting class with a PhD student named Boone J. Hopkins who changed everything about the way I viewed my art and how it defined the relationships I would make with people. Our tight-knit acting class was treated and worked like professionals, and what Boone reiterated to us every single day was “protect your ensemble.”
Protect your ensemble. Support your people and our combined ambition of creating something worth meaning. Protecting your ensemble means being there for each other, under all circumstances.
Forbes wasn’t there when my ensemble was. At the end of my freshman year my Mother, Shelley Lapin, passed away of Stage IV Breast Cancer and I thought my world was ending. My friend, my confidant, one of my biggest fans left the world before my 19th birthday.
And Forbes wasn’t there. So how could they know how my ensemble was? They protected me, an artistic community willing to lift and (sometimes carry) their fellow member. I stand here before you the living testament to the overarching love of the student, faculty and staff of the Jayhawk community. Because they were there, I am here.
In her memory I presented a Shakespeare recital under the guidance of Paul Meier, who showed me how language can heal. I gave my heart to my first love, had it returned held together by band-aids, finished a monologue and had a professor tell me “that was just not good” and questioned my personal ethics if I should lie on the phone to a theatrical leasing agent. I sang, I danced; I grew as a performer and a human being. As a more open-minded citizen of the planet. You all did you, because we are part of the same ensemble.
We survived. We watched the sun set behind the mountains of Epidaurus, we sang at Lincoln Center in New York and held hands as we rushed Mass Street in 2012.
So how can Forbes Magazine say that my, that our, KU majors should be on a list of “worst” college experiences when they don’t know anything about what it means right here to pursue something that makes you happy? The “return on investment” of an arts degree is not always the salaried solidarity of a steady paycheck, but there is infinite wealth knowing by graduating in this class, we are all part of this ensemble.
And Mama Hailey is going to protect you.
When I came into KU, my mother gave me a quote from the famous choreographer Twyla Tharp: “Noone can give you your subject matter, your creative content; if they could, it would be their creation and not yours.”
So, SOTA class of 2014, go forth and continue creating. Act, Paint, Shoot and Dance wherever the wind blows you away from Mount Oread—be it to clown school or somewhere overseas. Never stop doing what makes you happy because “Life is SO good.”
Protect your ensemble, my people. Congratulations on graduation and ευχαριστώ πολύ, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.