The 5060 students, faculty and alumni gathered for the first annual RC Commencement Oct. 19 made the sound by shaking tin boxes of Altoids mints. Commencement speaker and RC alumnus Tim Prentiss (B.A. 77) distributed the Altoids prior to his address. Prentiss directed everyone to shake the tins instead of clapping whenever they agreed with his statements. Why mints? Because this was the RCs first annual fall commencemint, Charles Bright, interim director of the RC, explained in his introduction of the speaker.
The Altoid tins were the first clue that this would be no traditional commencement address. For one thing, no one was graduating yet. The event was intended to celebrate the commencement, in the true sense of a beginning, of first-year students RC educations.
Prentiss proposed a more descriptive name for the College that would retain its initials. When I think of the RC, I think Radical Creativity, he said. I remember that Ann Larimore [professor emerita of geography and womens studies in the RC] had even suggested a major in creativity. Larimore, who was in the audience, shook her Altoids.
You are on the brink of creating your own reality and identity, Prentiss told the students. If you follow your passions and use your innate creativity, you can even create your own job.
Prentiss sent and email message with the idea of this commencement to Bright, who had been helping the Colleges Alumni Advisory Committee plan their fall meeting on campus. We thought this event would be a good way to bring alumni and first-year students together and focus on the four years in front of them in a semi-humorous way, Bright said.
One purpose of the weekend was to put more students in touch with alumni so they could discuss career opportunities and learn first-hand what types of jobs RC graduates find. There already has been a lot of informal traffic among alumni and students who often discuss career plans and choices by e-mail, Bright said. During the alumni weekend, we attempted to do more of that in the flesh.
He added that Prentiss, by agreeing to be the commencement speaker, was taking responsibility for his ideas, just as we encourage RC students to run with their ideas. Prentiss advised students to avoid employment anxiety and described the creative evolution of his own career. Dont even think about getting a job, he said. But thats not to say, dont think. He admitted to initially wondering what to do with a drama degree. The natural twists and turns of his career path eventually led him places he would not have gone, had he deliberately mapped out a career plan.
Those include managing a wine shop, running his own Web design consulting business, teaching at Chicagos Prairie State College, and teaching web design and computer skills to high school seniors. He also has taught juggling to elementary school students.
I learned to juggle at the RC and its finally paying off, he said, giving a brief demonstration. Prentiss enumerated examples of RC people who have taken on challenging projects that require courage and radical creativity. Among those he mentioned are Bright and Kate Mendeloff, lecturer in drama, whose Detroit history project resulted in 2001 Hastings Street, a musical presented as part of the Detroit 300 celebration. Members of the RC gathered oral histories of Detroit senior citizens and translated those histories into the musical performed by Detroits Mosaic Youth Theater.
Prentiss also told of a Chicago artist who took on the task of providing a proper identity for 45 people who died from a summer heat wave in Chicago a few years ago. The 45 bodies were not claimed by any friend or relative. The artist researched the backgrounds of those people and knitted mittens for each of them, incorporating their names, dates of birth, residences, and pictures into the material.
The artist is my wife, Nancy Gildart, now associate director of Career Development at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an RC graduate, said Prentiss. Gildart later met with students to discuss careers in the arts.
Prentisss own undergraduate experience in a U-M playwriting class showed some radical creativity. Bright revealed to the audience that Prentiss had received a D for a play he wrote in the class. That same play later won Prentiss a Hopwood award.
He urged the students to create a Web site that would connect them with alumni and continue the dialogue. I would love to see what you are doing in the RC and what you are able to teach us as well as what we can teach you. We can create a cross-generational learning experience.