2020 graduate student address by Santino Gonzales

Each year, an outstanding student address is chosen by a committee of faculty and community leadership. For 2020’s graduate cohort, Santino Gonzales (MFA Fine Arts 2020) was selected for the honor.

Thank you, everyone, for giving me this space. I’m glad to see that we are still finding ways to celebrate one another and our hard work. But, I hope someday soon, we’ll all get a chance to thank our friends, family, and those who supported us through this journey in person and honor all the hard work it took to get to this point.

Either way—we have done it. We have made it to a point where we can exit this experience wide-eyed and hopeful for a future where we can share our stories with the world.

For this graduation speech, I was asked to give advice. But the truth is, I don’t know how to give advice right now. So much is changing and it’s happening radically and drastically for so many of us. Things like employment and visiting our loved ones, they’re all “up in the air,” so to speak. We truly can’t say how things will be in the future. But somehow in this way, we are joined, and I am sure that there will be a place for artists like ourselves to share our voices and inspire one another as we find ways to move forward.

The thing I have loved most about my graduate experience is getting to meet all the wonderful people that are now a part of my life, forever. The conversations with instructors and friends, the critiques, the vulnerability that we all share in our work—all of this has value beyond capital. As times are tough, I hope we can all continue to recognize the power in making work outside of this system. We must remember what we are inspired by; what stories we haven’t told; and how we can recognize the past, present, and future through our individual voices. These are the things that we excel at, and as we adapt to this changing environment, our roles as artists will change and we cannot forget about the amazing things we have to share with one another.

Growing up in New Mexico, I’d often look out at the Los Lunas hill. It was a landscape scene that I would embed into my memory and continue to draw throughout my life: In the back of the classroom in grade school, locked in my room during high school, and painted over and over again during my undergraduate years. I didn’t know that this urge to connect with the world around me would continue to fuel me throughout my life, but it has. That image is one I think about often: A dormant volcano disguised as two rolling hills, backlit by a pink and orange sunset, cobblestone clouds leading the way. The world offering limitless inspiration from a seemingly endless horizon. I still think about this scene as I make art some 20 years later. In many ways, I’m still chasing this hill, and when we are all creating and talking and connecting, I feel like we get closer toward reaching the summit—one where we can see the next horizon.

I feel so fortunate and lucky to have had the opportunity to share this wild experience with all of you. There are moments that I will never forget in my time spent here. So I want to say thank you to my peers, friends, instructors, and everyone. We’ve all shared something special together. Let us remember each other as we approach the next horizon.

The only thing I can say that comes close to advice is this: Become more like an antenna—increase your capacity to send and receive as much as you can from the world around you. Embrace the luxury of dirt—recognize and respect the histories of the land you occupy. And look upward—continue to launch yourself into the future with generosity, awareness, and a sense of wonder.

Thank you and good luck everybody. I’m rooting for us all.

— Santino Gonzales (MFA Fine Arts 2020)

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