Montage of Commencement Honorary Degree Recipients

On Wednesday, May 16, Pratt Institute degree candidates will gather in their caps and gowns at Radio City Music Hall in the heart of Manhattan, where the graduation ceremony will be held during Pratt Institute’s 129th Commencement. The Institute will commemorate the achievements of more than 1,000 graduating students at the iconic venue and confer their degrees during the ceremony, which will begin at 10 AM. The 2018 celebration will mark the first Commencement for the Institute’s new president, Frances Bronet.   

This year, honorary degrees will be awarded to installation and conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, jazz pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis Jr., and Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum Anne Pasternak, who will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony.

Anne Pasternak’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of her many accomplishments in the world of art, education, and social justice. Since 2015, Pasternak has served as the Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum, one of the oldest and largest fine arts institutions in the nation. For more than 30 years, Pasternak has devoted her career to engaging broad audiences with the limitless power of art to move, motivate, and inspire. As a staunch advocate for the civic and democratic roles our cultural and educational institutions can play, she is committed to projects that demonstrate the crucial links between art and social justice.

During her time at the Brooklyn Museum, Pasternak has focused on strengthening the Museum as a center for the visual arts that is courageous, pioneering, and inspirational. With her demonstrated imagination and skill, she envisions new ways to connect the Brooklyn Museum’s historical collections with contemporary ideas and practices, such as experimenting with how to make the permanent collection and gallery spaces into more dynamic experiences. Through her leadership, Pasternak has also expanded the Museum’s educational and public program offerings, and she has fostered remarkable special exhibitions, including The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America and We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85. These initiatives are building the foundation for the Brooklyn Museum’s new strategic plan and furthers the Museum’s mission to create inspiring encounters with art and engage the community around the issues of today.

Jenny Holzer’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of her insightful work exploring and questioning contemporary issues. For more than 40 years, Holzer has presented her astringent ideas, arguments, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions, including 7 World Trade Center, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Her medium, whether formulated as a T-shirt, a plaque, or an LED sign, is writing, and the public dimension is integral to the delivery of her work. Starting in the 1970s with the New York City posters and continuing through her recent light projections on landscape and architecture, her practice has rivaled ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, and courage. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award in 1996, and the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 2011. She holds honorary degrees from Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College. She lives and works in New York.

Ellis Marsalis Jr.’s honorary degree will be conferred in recognition of his achievements as a leading modern jazz pianist and music educator. Marsalis is celebrated for his music, performing as part of the New Orleans-based American Jazz Quintet with musicians Ed Blackwell, Alvin Batiste, Richard Payne, and Harold Battiste. In 1974, Marsalis became the Director of Jazz Studies at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts high school, mentoring such contemporary artists as Reginald Veal, Terence Blanchard, and Harry Connick Jr. After three years teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Marsalis joined the University of New Orleans, where he spent 12 years heading the Jazz Studies department. In 2008, Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and in 2011, he and his family were awarded the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award. Marsalis continues to be active as a performing pianist, leading, and occasionally touring, his own quintet.

Image: (L-R) Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (courtesy of The Kurland Agency), Jenny Holzer (photo by Nanda Lanfranco), Anne Pasternak (portrait by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)