Alicia Keys Surprises Graduates at the 2020 SCAD Commencement

Alicia Keys Surprises Graduates at the 2020 SCAD Commencement

As a bastion of innovation, SCAD created an innovative solution to an unprecedented situation. On May 30, SCAD honored its Class of 2020 with a digital commencement featuring award-winning actress Rachel Brosnahan and musical icon Alicia Keys. The dynamic live streaming experience featured special performances, guest appearances, and virtual drop-ins on SCAD graduates as they celebrated at home. Tens of thousands of students, alumni, families, and friends watched the event online around the world.

“In a season of great uncertainty, I am certain of one truth above all: None of us at SCAD shall ever forget the spring of 2020,” said SCAD President Paula Wallace “Earning a SCAD degree is a supremely difficult achievement, requiring an intense and sustained degree of study and focus, and our students have accomplished that feat during the greatest social change in a generation. That is not merely remarkable. It is heroic.”

Wallace did not shy away from the emotional weight of the moment. “I’ve heard from many SCAD heroes in recent weeks, students who are working parents, students who homeschooled their siblings, students who desperately wanted to be back on campus. I know you have missed being here,” she said. “I’ll tell you what I’ve missed: you. SCAD has provided a meaningful digital experience this spring, but I do miss the analog. I miss the hugs and high-fives at senior shows and exhibitions. You are why I created SCAD, and I have missed you so very much!”

“For many, the transition to more serious adult responsibilities has been swift. You are different people now than you were three months ago. All of us are,” Wallace said. “For my part, I’ve learned during this pandemic to appreciate the most fundamental lesson of being a creative person and a leader: the law of ambiguity, of not-knowing. The uncertainty has been one of the most challenging parts. Yet, isn’t that what the creative life is all about? The courage to press on, even when you don’t have all the answers?”

SCAD’s 2020 digital commencement showcased the university’s internationally top-ranked programs, including interactive design and game development, interior design, film and television, advertising, graphic design, design management, and more. Graduates and their friends and family uploaded photos, videos, quotes, and more to create a curated viewing page and digital yearbook.

Wallace concluded her remarks with a story from SCAD history: “Long ago, at our first graduation in 1981, under the canopied splendor of Madison Square, I handed a diploma to our very first graduate: Juli Lee, who earned her B.F.A. in interior design. Yes, we held an entire graduation for one person!” she said, laughing at the memory. “At the time, I was a young mother and the academic dean of a very young SCAD, and I beheld the scene with wonder and gratitude. We had done it! We had persisted through the ambiguity and uncertainty of founding SCAD, to the graduation of our first student! At this very moment, in your living rooms and homes around the U.S. and from Argentina to Australia, Ireland to India, the circle has come ’round in all its fullness, thousands of intimate gatherings hosting a momentous graduation of one: a graduation for each of you!”

Wallace then introduced the virtual event’s honored guest, whose forthcoming album, ALICIA, features her deeply felt new song “Good Job,” which has become an anthem for all frontline healthcare workers around the world. Last month, Keys’s autobiography, More Myself, landed on the New York Times bestseller list.

“Be unafraid to be yourself,” urged Alicia Keys, seated at a distinctive purple piano, wearing a powder pink blazer as she delivered the keynote address of SCAD Commencement 2020. “Be unafraid to be different. Be unafraid to be completely you!”

Ms. Keys played a unique version of her chart-topping hit “No One” interspersed with an personal message to SCAD graduates: “There’s nothing that gets in the way of what I feel for you, which is pride, joy, extreme excitement for your life, for this graduation, for this day, for this time, right here right now! I’m so blessed to celebrate you. SCAD class of 2020, this is your sister Alicia Keys tuning in to everybody around the world. Everybody watching this right now, may you feel blessed!”

Graduates are able to relive their big moment on a personalized custom graduation page, and share digital yearbooks and custom graduate videos with #SCAD2020. As Alicia Keys put it during the ceremony: “Nothing’s ever going to get in the way of your greatness.”

As more than 3,000 SCAD graduates and their families all over the globe tuned in, Keys concluded: “Blessings and love, here’s to the best life yet. Happy graduation!”

SCAD 2020 Commencement is one for the history books–the first and perhaps the last entirely virtual graduation in the university’s 42-year history.


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