{exp:slideshowpro id=”790″ type=”album”}Pratt Institute held its 126th Commencement ceremonies on May 15 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where 1,255 graduate and undergraduate students crossed the stage—walking, striding, sashaying, and dancing—to receive their degrees and become alumni.

Joseph V. Melillo, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) executive producer, delivered the graduate ceremony commencement address on behalf of Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of BAM, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in absentia. 

Melillo told the story of artist Theaster Gates, who found an artistic way to respond to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. He scraped up whatever money he could to buy a house. He refurbished it and turned the scraps into artwork that he sold, using the proceeds to buy another house on the same street. Over the course of seven years, he made community spaces and houses for local artists.

“The moral of the story, Pratt Class of 2015, is that Theaster Gates is saving the world one artistic project at a time—and so will you,” he said.

Holland Cotter, co-chief art critic and a senior writer at The New York Times, delivered the undergraduate ceremony address.

He talked about art being fueled by love, urging graduates to “go with that love from this day forward, no matter what” and to be open, so that “as you do your work and pursue your lives, make generosity your mantra. Open hands, open hearts, open minds.” Cotter, who received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at the ceremony, emphasized the critical importance of art and artists in society, saying that “art is where the moral voice speaks when it speaks nowhere else.”

Before Cotter’s speech, honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees were awarded to Shepard Fairey, Alison Knowles (Pratt alumna, B.F.A. Illustration ’56), and James Turrell. Graduation speakers also included Undergraduate Foundation Department Adjunct Assistant Professor Andrew Lenaghan, who was named Distingished Teacher (2015-16), and elected student speakers Matthew Boker (M.Arch. ’15) and Spencer Hill (B.F.A. Communications Design ’15).