laverne cox, diane von furstenberg, deray mckesson, anita sarkeesian, david miliband, and mercedes doretti inspire with short, impactful speeches at the new school's commencement

Speakers and Honorary Degree Receipients Get to the Heart of their Advice to The New School's Graduating Class

Laverne Cox speaks at The New School's 80th Commencement. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Grassi)

NEW YORK, May 20, 2016 – Actress Laverne Cox, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, International Rescue Committee president and CEO David Miliband, and forensic anthropologist Mercedes Doretti were named honorary degree recipients and spoke at The New School’s 80th commencement exercises on Friday, May 20 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. New School President David E. Van Zandt presided over the ceremony.

Dispensing with the formalities and cliché speeches, the honorary degree recipients took turns delivering brief, impactful, five-minute talks that that got to the heart of their advice to The New School's graduating class. 

Our honorary degree recipients are extraordinary visionaries and leaders who reflect the core commitments and highest values of The New School," said University President David E. Van Zandt.
The following are quotable moments from the speeches:

Laverne Cox: “How does a black transgender women from Mobile, Ala., raised by a single mom from a working class background . . . end up here? It’s because I had so many people who believed in me and supported me, a mother who was a teacher and believed in the power of education. Education has been so crucial and so critical as I went forth into the world.”

Diane von Furstenberg: Furstenberg recalled her mom, a Holocaust survivor, telling her: “God saved me so I can give you life. By giving you life, I got my life back. This is my torch of freedom.”

“Frustration, rejection, humiliating moments will be the best memories, the best souvenirs. And when you’re successful, those are the stories you will always tell.”

DeRay Mckesson: “Protest, at its root, is this idea of telling the truth in public. We stood in streets and used our bodies to tell the truth that Mike Brown should still be alive, that Rekia, that Akai, that Amir should be alive today . . . We told a simple truth that we continue to tell today: that black lives matter.”

David Miliband: “Think about the word 'academic'; it can mean rigor, and standards, and independence. But it can also mean abstruse, detached from reality. Today, I hope and believe you stand for rigor and action, not rigor instead of action.”

Mercedes Doretti: “If you are able to find your own sound in life, your own noise — that is, what you feel passionate about — and be able to make that your work, then you will be part of a very small group: the ones that have the privilege to do what they love for a living.”

Anita Sarkeesian: “I challenge you to take the knowledge you have earned here and not only apply it to the insidious messages supporting sexism, racism, classism and other forms of injustice . . . but to also share it out to others. Share it with those who may not have had the privilege of studying in the liberal arts — who might not have acquired the theoretical knowledge and rigorous academic skills to deconstruct social systems including media, and examine culture in the way that you have learned to do. Apply what you know in ways that break down the barriers between academic thought and people’s actual lived experiences.”

For additional quotes, visit The New School’s website.

Founded in 1919, The New School was born out of principles of academic freedom, tolerance, and experimentation. Committed to social engagement, The New School today remains in the vanguard of innovation in higher education, with more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students challenging the status quo in design and the social sciences, liberal arts, management, the arts, and media. The New School welcomes thousands of adult learners annually for continuing education courses and calendar of lectures, screenings, readings, and concerts. Through its online learning portals, research institutes, and international partnerships, The New School maintains a global presence. Learn more at


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Media Contacts:

Scott Gargan,
The New School
212-229-5667 x 3794

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