Graduation speech from Principal Jeffrey Sharkey

Graduation is always a highlight of the year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. We have published the graduation address by Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of RCS, to the Class of 2018. 

Honoured Guests, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you all for being part of what is always a special moment for us at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

We’re here today for a lot of reasons: To mark achievement, to reflect on the impact the last few years have had and, perhaps, most important of all, to look forward and outwards, to life beyond these walls.

May I start by offering my warmest congratulations to you, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Class of 2018.  We are immensely proud of each and every one of you.

Over the time of your studies, you’ve been part of the fabric of everyday life here, as we have been a very big part of each of your lives. When you depart today, you leave behind your artistic imprint on an institution that, thanks to the imagination and creativity of you and your teachers, is flying high.

RCS is now internationally-leading, being ranked among the finest in the world.  We are different because we value not just disciplinary excellence as a pursuit in itself, but also the power of collaboration, and the power of exploring the spaces in between the disciplines where new connections, new understanding and new art can be made and experienced.

It is our mission to loosen the bonds of definition – as we blur the lines between art-forms – and, in doing so, challenge the norms of performance.  We see the positive result of that in so many different places and so many ways across the institution: the experiences that musicians create from working with dancers, that our actors create working with composers and in the myriad collaborations that students take part in during Bridge Week and throughout the year.

Just one example of all of this, of course, is the profound change, which our ground-breaking BA in Performance in BSL/English for d/Deaf and hard of hearing actors has had on the whole conservatoire. This is a historic and proud day for all of us, as it is today that our first cohort graduate from this programme, which is the first of its kind in the UK.

For three years, we have shared their journey and felt their presence in such a profound and positive way across the entire conservatoire.  Our community, and the work we now create, have both been changed for the better because of them and there is no doubt that, as individuals and professionals, they will now go on to change the profession they are about to enter.  And, like everyone else, I have learned some new things – for example, how you say Principal Sharkey in BSL  and the equally evocative BSL sign for Scotland.

Our whole institution is shaped and framed in part because of where we are in Glasgow and in Scotland – a city and nation where culture is valued, shared generously and is something for everyone.

While I doubt you will miss the rain, you may miss many things about this city, not least its humour and genuine warmth (in human terms, if not in degrees Celsius).  I’m certain that the time you’ve spent here in Glasgow will form an important part of your lives forever.

As our graduates, you are empowered to take everything that is essential and important about your education here and apply it with passion and confidence in whatever you choose to do next.

And, as you go from here to be citizens of the world, it is with our love and encouragement to be the best that you can be.

In thanking you and celebrating your achievements, there’s a group of very special people that you and I also need to thank for the part they’ve played in supporting you – and that’s your family and friends here –  and those not able to be here with us – today.

Graduates, just as they’re celebrating your achievements – can I ask you to be upstanding and to applaud your audience – as a way of saying thank you for being here and everything they’ve done for you.

Thank you to our family and friends.

Now, I want to use this time to remind you why you came here and urge you to stay true to those values and ambitions.

Wherever we turn, cynics and systems appear to challenge the value and purpose of the arts in our lives and our communities.

Increasingly, public authorities in Scotland, across the UK and elsewhere in the world are truncating severely – or removing entirely – access to performing arts tuition from those young people who cannot afford to pay for it.

In addition – and fanning the flames of an increasing financial results-driven and market-driven approach to Higher Education – the Institute for Fiscal Studies earlier this month declared, that arts students are most likely destined to be the lower-earners amongst their peers (the unspoken inference being ‘so why bother being an arts student or an artist at all?).

Develop this school of thought further to its logical end point, and you are confronted with questions such as, “Why does it matter anyway – do the arts feed us?”  ; “What do they actually contribute to society?”

We all share a deep belief that the performing arts are one of the greatest inventions of humankind – a language that expresses the gamut of human experience and a language that can be shared by all of us regardless of our mother tongue.  We share a world that, in some senses is becoming ever more global and fast-paced, but in others is becoming divided by differing views and values.  Our sharing or our art has the potential to slow that fast pace down and allow us to focus on the moment, the phrase, the line.  Our sharing of our arts also builds bridges between us, allowing us to set aside our different backgrounds and points of view and come together around an art that is greater than anyone of us alone.  The world needs these bridges between peoples more than ever and you graduates should be in the forefront of showing how there is more that unites us than divides us.

I suggest to you that the value of the performing arts – both to you as a practitioner and to those with whom you share them – cannot be measured in terms of pounds and pence because they are priceless.

In this the centenary year of his birth, composer Leonard Bernstein is as relevant and resonant as ever in defining what this means and I’d like to end by quoting him.  He said:

It is the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers who will ultimately save us; who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams.

So as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Class of 2018, be true to yourself, remember why you came here. And whatever you do next – leave this place shouting those big dreams.

Thank you,

Principal Jeffrey Sharkey

 

 

 

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