My mind often wanders on my subway ride to and from Juilliard each day. I'm not an iPod person, and my ride is short enough it seems pointless to bring a book, so I usually sip a cup of coffee and quietly observe my fellow passengers. It's an interesting exercise - who are you? what do you do? is the scruffy older man a professor? an artist? just scruffy? If you are getting off the train at 86th St, are you going home? to work? to meet someone? Are you riding the train because it's practical, but you could really afford a taxi for everywhere you go? Are you a tourist, or a die-hard New Yorker? (though tourists are usually easy to spot - the map is a dead giveaway). There are millions of possibilities... If you walk through the Juilliard building, you usually can't tell just by looking at a student what he or she does - sometimes there are giveaways (the instrument case they happen to be carrying, for example, or the dance clothes), but often there are not - it's just a bunch of young men and women going to and from something in a hallway or an elevator. Though I think I'm pretty good at knowing and remembering names (sometimes an entire life history!) from the application and audition process, I often don't make the connection between the name and a face. If I didn't meet the student during his or her application year, I may not see them much after arrival at Juilliard, except on stage (a sad fact of working in Admissions).
So I wonder, here, too - who is this person? Is this quiet, slender young man actually a dynamo at the piano? Is this vivacious young woman a singer? an actor? or - surprise - a double bass player?
Sometimes, the reverse is true, too. Is that amazing dancer/actor/musician who lit up the stage quiet, determined, lively, reserved, outgoing, enterprising, a leader? One of the wonderful things about Juilliard students is that they constantly surprise me - not just with their amazing talent, but that they are amazing people, too.
Quick context, then, for this blog. Juilliard's president, Dr. Polisi, is a strong believer in artists as citizens - engaging in the surrounding world as leaders and powerful voices in our society. So, it should be no surprise that our student body was extremely interested in the election this past fall. In fact, I think that the entire School shut down on January 20th for the inauguration - televisions were set up in the lobby, in recital halls, in the student lounge - and if you didn't get out to one of those spaces, then you were streaming it on your computer.
I just heard about an event that was put together in December after the election - a Black History Month Panel Discussion titled "Obama, Race and History". I honestly do little in December other than process applications and pre-screening recordings like mad, so it's no surprise that I missed it! But luckily, it was video-taped, and is available on our web site. I started watching the video (listening, really) this morning, and was blown away by the thoughtfulness, intelligence, engagement, and humor of all of those involved. I'm sure they'd cringe at me writing this - but I was so amazed at the students. I know (or remember them) as the tall, polite and quiet teenager; the bouncy, excited girl; the even-tempered, hardworking young man who has worked with us for four years - and they have turned into these astonishing adults. Do I get to say I'm proud of the fact that I had some part of their being here? I am - Kris, Jamal, Shalita - I am so proud that you are Juilliard students.