Today, Katie graduated from the New York Film Academy. Her first time in a cap and gown. After studying in New York and then taking her second year in Los Angeles, she finished with an associate degree in fine arts. For a lot of people, the college degree is the big deal. But for Katie, it was just a byproduct. She had no intention of working toward a degree of any sort. She simply wanted to learn as much as she can, get as connected as possible, and take her chances in the entertainment business. Katie was simply interested in taking her habit of pursuing passions to the next level.
We didn’t take time to mark her earlier learning with graduations when she was younger. We didn’t section learning into grade levels or subject matter, so graduations weren’t really relevant. We just dove in, filled our days discovering passions and exploring new experiences. Katie opted out of the local homeschool group’s graduation. When she was 18 and her “age mates” were planning their graduation, she was already acting and had been for some time. She had an agent, participated in acting workshops, taught dance classes – she had already moved on. To go back to participate in a graduation seemed artificial to her. She could see no reason for it.
Choosing the conservatory route, in our minds, meant that there’d be no degree in the end. It’s just that this particular program offered all sorts of options. When she decided she wanted to pursue acting for film and do it in the L.A. area, suddenly NYFA’s AFA program for Film Acting seemed like the best second year program to step into. So she did.
Some of Katie’s New York classmates took the same path along with her. Other second year students started in Los Angeles and simply continued on at the same place. Katie felt this year was even fuller and richer than her first and now she has decided to make Los Angeles her home.
But back to the Big Day…
Traffic was pretty bad and we got Katie to the Harmony Gold Theater on Sunset Boulevard just in time. The director was handing out specific instructions and they did their “walk through.”
In some ways, graduation days can be kind of tough on moms. We have a hard time pushing back tears as we can’t help but reminisce about the years that led to this moment. All those years up on stage, motioning to us to get her picture. One show after another in local community theaters – we barely came up for air! The house full of Broadway show tunes. Her life was full of acting classes, improv, vocal lessons, voiceover classes, Shakespeare, auditions…which all led to agents and commercials and a movie… and then moving away. All these images come rushing back to me.
As I watch my daughter find her place in line with her classmates, I’m filled with joy for her. Still, I have to look away. I find myself wanting to stop the clock, in the same way I’ve wanted to stop time over and over throughout her life. I don’t do that well with life transitions, it seems. And time marches on.
I’m not nearly as impressed with the actual “graduating” aspect as I am with the persistence and dedication she showed to get here. I have no sense of relief that she “finally did it.” or any of those other thoughts I hear expressed by parents. I just feel so happy for her that she did what she set out to do. She took the classes, turned in the work, and earned the degree. And managed all of this on her own and did spectacularly well!
We went to our seats, joining the other parents we had met earlier that week. The AFA Acting for Film group of about fifteen students performed their final scene studies at the Acme Theater on LaBrea Boulevard earlier in the week. Agents and families were invited to watch as they showed off what they had learned over the two year period. Katie’s scene, That Face, was with her NYC roommate Danielle. It was the story of a hazing gone bad at an all girls’ school. Katie does well with dark comedy, and so that’s what she chose for her showcase.
Earlier today, the group watched their Final Films at Warner Brothers‘ Studios’ Screening Room 5. They were all really good – which was probably why Katie enjoyed working with this group so much this year. Everyone clearly cared a great deal about their performances and their dedication and hard work shined. Seeing them all up on the big screen was exciting and fun for all of us.
As I sat in my seat at graduation, Ron pointed to the program. The Guest Speaker was Jamie Lee Curtis! As one of my friends said, “Hollywood Royalty!” Indeed!
All of the speakers were good. They invited the soon-to-be alumni to come back for workshops or help, to bounce ideas off faculty, share successes, etc. They were all lovely. But I was most taken, of course, with Jamie Lee Curtis. Her logical words of wisdom mixed with encouragement and humor. I sneakily recorded her speech with my cell phone, and may upload it later! 😉
Jamie shared a quote from John Steinbeck. In East of Eden, he wrote about creativity and the forces against creativity:
“Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning blows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.
And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.
And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.
This is what I am and what I am about.
I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for it is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.”
Jamie added something I adored: Your creativity is the most precious thing you could ever want. And all you have to do is tap into it, and try not to pretend to be like other people. Because they don’t know anything. The only person that knows is you.
She also shared this:
The Jamie Book of Rules
1. Live below your means.
2. Show up early. Really freaking early. Be the 1st person at the job.
3. Never be late. Ever.
4. Never say the word, “No.” If you don’t know how to do something, just say yes then go learn how to do it.
5. Clean up. “Here let me help you clean up.” You are not above anything. You need to be as interested in the finishing up as the creating.
6. Don’t smoke.
7. She read from a note her friend received from her son, after her show was not well received by audiences. It said this:
I see you. And I respect you.
This is dangerous business. Red carpets are red for a reason. You tear your heart out with all its faults and insecurities and doubts and hubris and innocence and anger and begging and loneliness and longing and, and, and…
You hope and hope and hope it will be loved, and maybe just liked, by all these unknown people. And IF that happens, no chance that the crowd somehow loves your heart that you’ve torn out and thrown up on stage in front of all of them, beating and bloody, and then what? What do you get? What then? It’s still your heart. Nothing has changed. Nothing anyone says, has changed, will say, can change that.
This is a dangerous business. The carpet is red because of the blood spilled by ruthless envy, mixed with the same blood, from the many courageous hearts, ripped out, raised up, and thrown up on the stage in front of everyone. Anyone brave has blood on the carpet, alongside the cowards and the scared children. We are all, all of it. I’ve thrown my heart out there many times, and I’ve stomped on other people’s hearts with my envy and my fear. It’s just how it is. Nothing will ever change that. Not anger, not pride, no excuses.
I am proud of your heart and I am proud to made of your blood.
And, of course, I wept.
What a day!