Pluto on the Horizon

Images were combined with color data to create this enhanced view of Pluto.

The pictures of Pluto beaming down to us from that amazing little spacecraft called New Horizons are stunning—and utterly inspiring. Well, in my mind, everything about NASA’s mission to reach Pluto is stunning and amazing and inspiring. There it is, on the very edge of our solar system—and thanks to this idealistic mission, we can see it, study it, learn from it.

Reaching Pluto has been a dream since the Kennedy era, and probably since it was discovered some 85 years ago. We have now completed what NASA says is the “initial reconnaissance of the solar system.” As the cosmologist Stephen Hawking said in congratulating NASA, “We explore because we are human and we long to know.” A sentiment close to the heart of any educator, I think.

The success of this mission helps to reinforce in me a faith in American—no, make that human—competency and commitment. These may seem minor elements in this story, but think of it: New Horizons was launched over nine years ago. Pluto is over three billion miles away. At least three billion things could have gone wrong over that time, anything from a computer glitch to a chance encounter with a bit of dust that could alter, or completely destroy, the mission. And then, of course, there is the matter of time. Think of the persistence…the mind-set…the sheer patience of the scientists working on this project. (I wonder…could this mission have been conceived in today’s “instant gratification” culture?)

January 19, 2006: New Horizons Launches for Pluto
January 19, 2006: New Horizons Launches for Pluto

So this is a remarkable achievement: a “hallmark in human history” a leading NASA scientist called it. Surely on those days when we are less than confident in the world we occupy, this achievement offers hope and inspiration. In the months ahead, New Horizons will be feeding us data that will start to provide answers to our endless questions about our universe and ourselves. And the beauty of it is that the more we know, the more we want to know—that is, I think, human nature. Our capacity for wonder is ceaseless. In so many ways, thanks to New Horizons, we have just begun.

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Celebrating a Historic Step Toward Equality

Celebrating a Historic Step Toward Equality

It seemed especially appropriate that just a week before a quintessentially American holiday—Independence Day—we were able to commemorate another great step forward in U.S. history: the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. Indeed, this was a remarkable moment to which we have all been witness.

As I have often said and we all acknowledge, FIT is committed to the concepts and practices that prevent and condemn discrimination of any kind. This institution—its entire community—thrives and becomes better by diversity of all kinds. My unwavering personal conviction is that diversity enhances our ability to become better citizens, to broaden our horizons, and to better prepare all of us for professional—and personal—success.

I hope that you join me in celebrating both equality and independence. It is again heartening to be part of the American educational system where we can acknowledge and teach the value of tolerance, diversity, and humanity.

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2015 FIT Gala

Our annual gala in early June was—once again—a wonderful success. Held at Cipriani on 42nd Street, it drew over 650 people, all good friends and supporters of FIT who, altogether, helped us to raise over $1.3 million. Our honorees—trustee Ed Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue—attracted bands of admirers whose enthusiasm boosted an already high level of cheer throughout the room.

Marc Metrick, the president of Saks, accepted for the legendary store with the same kind of wit and sagacity that he offered just a few weeks before as FIT’s commencement speaker. He was introduced by the inimitable Fern Mallis, another former FIT commencement speaker, whose own wit and love of industry shone through. And Ed Goodman, a trustee for 20 years and chairman of the board for 16 of those years, spoke with great warmth about his family, their celebrated retail heritage, and their long-standing commitment to FIT. Ed was introduced by Pete Scotese, chairman emeritus of the FIT Board of Trustees, who commented that convincing Ed to succeed him as board chair was the best thing he did in his own 13 years as chair.

Cipriani is such a grand space for events of this kind. The room was beautifully lit and enhanced by clever mannequins created by students in our Visual Presentation and Exhibition program and representing world-famous artists. The tables featured very elegant floral centerpieces.

I was delighted to see so many of our wonderful alumni in the crowd. Everyone looked so beautiful that I think I am going to let our slide show tell the story:

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Brooke Shields Visits FIT

IMG_4076A week before commencement, Brooke Shields—one of our commencement speakers this year—visited FIT. I wanted to tell you about this because her visit was almost as exhilarating as her commencement speech. Usually our commencement speakers are content to learn about the college from the materials we send them. But not Ms. Shields. She requested a tour and we were very happy to oblige.

She visited while all of our end-of-semester student exhibitions were still on display and stayed almost four hours—a little lunch included. And she could not have been more engaged, more excited, more curious, more responsive. Ever the student, she asked pertinent and interesting questions and took copious notes. Ms. Shields is a New Yorker. She lives here with her husband and two daughters and told us that of course she “knew” FIT. But it was clear to us that her visit was revelatory. Like many people, she didn’t realize how broadly we define design or understand the full scope of our business school.

She was fascinated by our students and even, in some ways, identified with them. For instance, she recognized in the creativity, high quality and professionalism of the work she saw on display a shared and very strong work ethic and mentioned, just in passing, that she had been working since she was 11 months old (as an Ivory Snow baby). She was amazed that FIT students arrive already knowing what they want to do and identified with their focus, drive, and ambition. She observed that at Princeton, where she received her bachelor’s degree, most of her classmates did not know what they wanted to do with their lives when they graduated. Unlike them, however, she knew just what she wanted to do: return to acting. It was a surprise to discover, she told us, that after her four year hiatus, she basically had to start over again. She believed that FIT graduates, with the presentation skills they learned in their classrooms, would have a smoother transition into their careers.

She visited our toy design studio and spoke at length with Professor Judith Ellis and the students, which reminded me that she is not only a mother, but also the author of children’s books. And because she now has her own line of cosmetics with MAC, we took her to the cosmetics and fragrance labs in the Dubinsky Center, where she spent a considerable period of time with Professor Virginia Bonofiglio. At commencement, she mentioned that the only reason she was willing to sign with MAC was because they wanted her to be fully engaged in the development of her products—and judging from the intensity of her conversation with Professor Bonofiglio, it was clear that she is.

So here she was, an internationally-recognized celebrity, a model, stage and screen actress, author, beauty entrepreneur, walking through our halls. She could not have been more down to earth, more natural, more charming, or good-humored. She posed easily with students for selfies as they encountered her in the hallways or classrooms. Arriving on her own—without the clichéd movie star entourage—she wore no makeup and looked for all the world like any other New York mother, albeit a tall and very beautiful one. Indeed, much of her conversation centered around her children; you could feel her devotion to them and understand why she received an award last year from the National Mother’s Day Committee. It was a pleasure having her with us and I hope we will have many more opportunities to welcome her to campus.

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End-of-Year Awards Highlight Student and Faculty Achievements

Every year at this time, I say to whomever is listening how much I love the month of May. Almost every college president does. It’s the time when our students work lights up our corridors, exhibition halls and classrooms. And as commencement rapidly approaches, it is also the time when we celebrate not just student achievement but faculty achievement as well. After all, our students’ achievements are also our faculty’s achievements. Without our faculty’s profound commitment to their students, their fields of endeavor and the mission of education, we would have precious little to celebrate. So I want to share some moments from two of this week’s celebrations: our Faculty Awards Ceremony and Student Recognition Ceremony.

Faculty Award Ceremony

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Student Award Ceremony

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