A 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.