Image courtesy of Carl Edward Mongan.

2020 undergraduate student address by Carl Edward Mongan

Each year, an outstanding student address is chosen by a committee of faculty and community leadership. For 2020’s undergraduate class, Carl Edward Mongan (BFA Animation 2020) was selected for the honor.

Now, when writing this, I hoped to write the greatest speech CCA had ever seen. I did research on past commencement speakers for inspiration. The first speech I read started like this, “The chicken suit I am wearing took over two years to make.” Obviously, that’s the best speech CCA has ever seen, so I’ll settle for the best speech ever read remotely...

Class of 2020, congratulations. You really deserve this. You deserve more. Eventually, that will come. Please find comfort in knowing that you are one of the few classes to inhabit all CCA campuses: Oakland, San Francisco, and You are all brilliant artists, and social distancing can’t take away the sense of pride you should all feel right now.

I’m going to take us back. In 1907, a German-born designer named Frederick Meyer teamed up with artists Perham Nahl and Isabelle Percy West to create an arts school that taught both theory and practice of their crafts—a holistic arts education. This new idea came in response to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which destroyed Fred’s workshop and home. Out of disaster, California Guild of Arts and Crafts was born in the Bay. Since then, the school has undergone three name changes and is now posed to unify its two campuses in San Francisco.

Our personal experiences differ, but our CCA experience is shared. Ours has been one of rapid and significant change—a massive institutional transition between cities, finites resources, and cuts to finite resources. Navigating through the chaos and uncertainty is difficult to do by yourself.

So, we show up together. When faced with poor conditions, we unionized, we held town halls. We advocated to hold people of power accountable for their actions and inactions. Our CCA community acts with resilience for and with each other. I consider the degree I earned a group effort—a collaboration by solution-oriented problem solvers.

As art students over the past years, we’ve become accustomed to critique—improving each other’s works and pointing out new directions to explore. That stays with us. The making never stops. This virus has revealed and exacerbated cracks in our systems—institutionally, federally, and globally. We will not return to normal after this. And that’s good. Don’t just fill those cracks. Build on top of them.

Remember why you started this journey in the first place. Acknowledge that there is humanity in the act of making. We use our varying perspectives and backgrounds to interpret that human experience. As artist-citizens, we use our collective creativity to build a better equitable world. Your work can solve a problem, or pose a new question.

Now, I know that’s a tall order. So, when it gets too big, when there’s too much being asked of you—stop, and breathe. Take a step back, and then “do the next right thing.” The next right thing will differ for all of us, but that mantra will keep you moving forward.

It’s more important now than ever that you take care of your health—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Stop pulling all-nighters—you’ve graduated. Drink some tea, wash your face, draw an inchworm wearing a cowboy hat—do what you need to take care of yourself. And remember that you have a community of artists to turn to when that alumni life gets tough.

As California College of the Arts unites in San Francisco, the CCA experience inevitably changes. We are connected not only by our short time together, but by CCA’s legacy. United in tradition, we now craft the future.

Now, it may not feel like it, but you are ready. I’m confident in your abilities as artists, as citizens of this world, and most importantly—as good, compassionate people.

CCA was envisioned after a terrible disaster. Rebuilding is never easy. Remodeling is even harder.

But let’s face it—art school was tough. All-nighters followed by early morning shuttle rides to critiques, feeling a sense of imposter syndrome while standing next to your work in front of your colleagues and asking yourself in your head, “Do you think the A2 Cafe is out of plain bagels already?” I might be projecting, but the original point stands. We know just how difficult it is to graduate and reach this day. I know you can perform. You’re already doing it. The stakes are high, but I know that’s usually when I’m at most creative.

Congratulations California College of the Arts, Class of 2020.

Now, go on. Make art that matters.

— Carl Edward Mongan (BFA Animation 2020)

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