Thursday, May 25, 2017—the day of FIT’s 72nd annual commencement exercises—dawned cold and wet, but the spirit of FIT’s graduating students, their families and friends, faculty and distinguished guests prevailed over the weather. LL Cool J, the pioneering hip-hop artist, actor, and author who received the President’s Award for Creative Excellence, even turned the weather into a positive, reminding students that the rain brings the harvest, and showers bring flowers.
“It’s a sign to you that the flowers of your creativity, your maximum potential, and the flowers of your success are already blooming in your future,” he said. “Embrace the rain, and this moment.”
Nearly 4,000 students, including LL Cool J’s daughter Samaria Smith, were awarded associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in nearly 50 areas of study, with more than 10,000 attending the event. The single ceremony (as opposed to the two separate ceremonies of years past) was held at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens.
Essie Weingarten, the founder of Essie Cosmetics, received a State University of New York honorary degree and addressed the graduates. An FIT alumna with a passion for painting her nails, Weingarten created her own nail colors―and in the process, transformed the beauty industry. As the force behind Essie Cosmetics, she used her creativity, marketing brilliance, and entrepreneurial savvy to bring her polishes into 25,000 salons worldwide. Distinctive colors with witty names and clever packaging turned her line into one of the best known in the business and have lured shoppers to spend $150 million a year on her products. In 2010, she sold her company to L’Oréal.
Weingarten advised the graduating students to follow their passion, to never say no, always smile, always believe in themselves, be positive, and love what they’re doing.
“Set realistic goals, but make sure you love what you’re doing,” she said. “If you’re happy, you’re going to be committed, content, and it makes such a difference.”
LL Cool J dropped out of school at age 16 to sign with the fledgling rap label Def Jam Recordings. With his long string of hit albums, many of which went gold or platinum, he helped to propel hip hop―and Def Jam―into the mainstream. Along the way, he established himself as a popular film and TV actor, and for five years he hosted the Grammy Awards. Smith has written four books, including one for children. A two-time Grammy Award winner and a two-time MTV Video Music Award winner, Smith also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among his other numerous honors are an NAACP Image Award and an honorary degree from Northeastern University.
He shared advice that his grandmother passed to his mother, and then to him: “If a task is once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”
FIT President Joyce F. Brown praised the students for their resilience and fortitude during uncertain times, and their abilities, which brought them to graduation day.
“You did it fueled by your own fierce determination, hard work, and the gifts of creativity that brought you to FIT in the first place,” she said. “And with those gifts, each one of you has the power to make a difference. I urge you to live your real life with an open and vigorous spirit, in defiance of all that is bad around us, live committed to the compassion, the courage and the kindness that represents the very best of all of us, and all of you.”
For video highlights of the 2017 Commencement Exercises, click here.