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UNIVERSITY COMMENCEMENT 2014

 

REMARKS OF 2014 GIANNINI AWARD RECIPIENT ELAINE PRUITT

Pruitt delivers her remarks as Interim Chancellor James Moeser looks on.

 

Thank you for this award!  This school has been a major part of my life for over 40 years and I am humbled that you have honored me in this way.  The late Gordon Hanes once said that there is no such thing as a bad short speech, so I will make a few very brief remarks to the Class of 2014.

This school has often been called a “magical place” and I agree.  But I also think it is something of a miracle.  Think of the intersection, the confluence of ideas, people, events and chance meetings that created it:

  • It took the election of Terry Sanford as governor of North Carolina. He had the idea that state government existed to benefit and provide opportunities for its citizens. Once elected his office showed great concern for both education and for the state of the arts in North Carolina.
  •  In 1962 Governor Sanford appointed the writer John Ehle as his special assistant for new projects.  Mr. Ehle was concerned that there was not a place in North Carolina’s educational system where young artists could receive professional training from practicing artists; you could study history and theory and what others said about the arts, but there wasn’t a place that really nurtured young artists.   
  • That same year Governor Sanford and some of his staff went to the Transylvania Music Camp in Brevard, North Carolina, where the idea of a state conservatory came up.  One of Sanford’s aides, Hugh Cannon, wondering how this sort of new idea might work, told his young guide about the idea.  She said, “My husband, Vittorio, is very much interested in a conservatory; in fact, he is a teacher at Juilliard”.  Her husband was the composer Vittorio Giannini, who would become one of the guiding lights behind the school and in fact, would be its first president. 
  • There are many more examples, but this would become a very long set of remarks.  As a result of these ideas and the work of Governor Sanford, his staff, and the Conservatory Committee that he created, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation establishing the school in 1963.  This school became the nation’s first state-supported arts conservatory. [And by the way, in 1965, when the school opened its doors, the Congress of the United States passed legislation establishing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I keep remembering the quote by John Adams, the second president of the United States, in which he said “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry and porcelain.” ]
  • At the same time there were people in this city---Winston-Salem, the site of the nation’s first Arts Council---who wanted the new school here.  So people like Philip Hanes and Smith Bagley galvanized the community.  In 1964 they offered the James A. Gray High School, which had just closed, as a site and then they had a telethon to raise $1 million to renovate Gray High School to make it suitable as the site for the new North Carolina School of the Arts.  And so here we are today!

Besides all the people I have just mentioned, there were those who gave of themselves---their time, their reputation and their treasure---to ensure the survival of the school.  They are too many to mention them all, but I want to pay tribute to a couple of them.  At that time, the state constitution only allowed a governor to serve for one term.  So, it was important for us that Governor Sanford’s successor, Governor Dan Moore was a staunch supporter of the school, along with his wife, Janelle, who was a member of our Board of Trustees.  When Vittorio Giannini died shortly after the school opened, the composer Robert Ward became the next president and guided the school through its incorporation into the University of North Carolina system.  There were Mary and Jim Semans who loved and nurtured the school in every way imaginable; the school still bears their handprints everywhere you turn.  And there is Tom Kenan, who is with us today.  It would be difficult to imagine anyone who has been a more loyal and steadfast friend to the school than Tom Kenan. 

And there are all of the chancellors, the deans, the faculty, the staff, alumni, and supporters from the state and the community (many of whom are here today) who have nurtured and cared for UNCSA.  Earlier this week we had a gala on the campus to celebrate the birth of the school and to honor those who worked to bring it to Winston-Salem.  The question raised at the gala was “What will be your role?” in ensuring the survival and the success of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  And so today I want to pose that question to you.  This school has nurtured you for the last several years and now I want to challenge you to play a role in nurturing it.  How?  Well, you can mentor young artists.  You can encourage young people with talent to come to school here.  You can be an ambassador for UNCSA.  You can come back and be a guest artist, sharing your story, your success, your talents with students.  And you can give of your treasure, your monies to join us in supporting this miraculous and magical place. 

Again, thank you and congratulations to the class of 2014.