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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FIT Honored by the Accessories Council Hall of Fame

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Speaking at the Accessories Council Hall of Fame Awards

Last week, FIT was honored by our good friends at the Accessories Council on the occasion of our 70th anniversary. In particular, they recognized the accomplishments of our Accessories Design and Jewelry Design programs. The Council is a national trade organization for the accessories industry that provides all kinds of support not only to its members, but also to students. For many years, the Council has been a great partner to FIT, with members serving on departmental advisory boards, mentoring and advising students, providing internships and scholarships, as well as sponsoring an annual end-of-year award program for our students.

The festivities took place at a lovely event space in the West Village which, in its elegant décor, celebrated FIT and its distinctive history. It was attended by many of the Council’s members, faculty from our Accessories Design and Jewelry Design programs, FIT trustees and foundation directors, and many other good friends.

I was very touched to learn that former visiting FIT student Nathalie Colin flew in from her home in Paris, where she is creative director of Swarovski, to be part of the program. Her reminiscences of her one year at FIT back in the 1980s were warm and charming. I was equally touched by remarks from Joan Hornig, FIT trustee and jeweler, and delighted to be able to accept the Hall of Fame award on behalf of the college from Nathalie, Joan, and Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council. It was a memorable evening.

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Missing Miss Communication

I miss Miss Communication. She—if we can call “her” “she”—was the striking sculptural installation outside the Pomerantz Center that dominated the entrance area of the building for five months. Elegant and elusive, she stood 20 feet tall and was made up of over 3200 cans and 1600 lines of fishing wire that connected the cans across a 27 foot span.

Miss Communication was the creation of Pansum Cheng, an artist who has been a sculpture technologist in our Fine Arts department for nine years. He received a grant last year from the President’s Diversity Council to erect Miss Communication—a challenging process that took well over four months and the assistance of a rotating team of students and the active support of the college’s security, buildings and grounds, and environmental health and safety departments.

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Cans and string: it seemed so simple. But somehow, looking at the installation, I’m not sure it really was. I mean, I’ve certainly watched children using string and cans to chatter away, but apparently very few viewers did that. Maybe Miss Communication was too imposing or too complex: after all, with so many almost barely visible lines stretched across that 27 feet, it could be difficult to even see who you are talking to on the other side. So maybe Miss Communication was making another kind of statement, one that required more contemplation.

Mr. Cheng, who is a native of mainland China, arrived here at the age of nine. He says he experienced a kind of cultural disconnect—not an unusual occurrence for an immigrant—and had to learn to read between the lines. It’s not just language, he points out, but ethnicity, age, religion, gender, personal ambitions—all these things and more play a role in how we connect with and understand one another. This piece, he says, was borne out of his frustration, and even excitement, of living in such an intensive multicultural world. I understand that. One needn’t be an immigrant, or nine years old, to experience it. We all go through the world interpreting other peoples’ words, their body language, and their intentions. We don’t begin to know how often we misread and misunderstand one another….how often our communication is really miscommunication.

So yes, I miss Miss Communication. She had a lot to say to us—a lot worth thinking about and remembering in our everyday encounters with the world.

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Student Ideas Resonate at Clinton Global Initiative University

At every turn at FIT, I find a reason to be proud. It is approaching end of semester and our corridors and lobbies are starting to radiate with outstanding examples of student (and faculty!) work. In too many disciplines to name, our students are being selected for exceptional awards. Last week I posted about two of our students who dazzled legislators in Albany as we lobbied for funding.

Now, I am pleased to say that two FIT students—Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis—recently returned from the University of Miami where they represented the college at the annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU). Only one in six proposals is accepted at CGIU for presentation; it is a very selective process. The students were also asked to write an op-ed for a publication that CGIU put out as part of its meeting.

Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis
Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis

Lydia and Willa are both Textile Development and Marketing students and their winning proposal was to develop a muslin compost system for FIT. They believe—appropriately so—that FIT should be at the forefront of fabric waste management and that we can lead the fashion and textile industry by education and example.

Last year, three of our students were selected to attend the CGIU with their proposal to plant a natural dye garden, which indeed they did on the 9th floor terrace of the Feldman Center, and which has been carefully tended to throughout the year. I am very optimistic about the creative and ambitious compost system Lydia and Willa will develop and all FIT can continue to do to protect and preserve our planet’s resources.

» Learn more about the muslin compost system proposal

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