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Best Foot Forward

At FIT’s 66th annual commencement exercises, on May 24 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, spirits soared among the 1,600 students, eagerly awaiting the moment to turn their tassels and embrace their new status as graduates. In line with FIT tradition, many of the mortarboards in that sea of bright blue regalia were enhanced with sequins, rhinestones, glitter, fabric, feathers, and even toys.

For the first time, FIT held two ceremonies, one in the morning for the School of Art and Design and the School of Graduate Studies, and another in the afternoon for the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology and the School of Liberal Arts. About 10,000 people attended in total, twice the capacity of Radio City Music Hall, where the ceremony has been held in past years.

In the morning, the featured speaker was Aerin Lauder, creative director and chairman of Aerin LLC and style and image director of Estée Lauder. A President’s Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys. In his speech, Doonan offered an antidote to standard graduation bromides with crowd-pleasing pointers like “Make sure you have at least one drag queen in your life,” and “Always keep a jar of pickles in your refrigerator. You never know when Aunt Mitzi might drop in. Or Snooki.”

In the afternoon, speaker Tony Hsieh, CEO of, lectured enthusiastically on the science of happiness, and Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, received a lifetime achievement award. She talked about her own struggle to fi nd her niche within the fashion world. “Remember that there’s no such thing as a problem,” she said, “only an opportunity.” In both ceremonies, President Joyce F. Brown gave an impassioned call for a stronger focus on the liberal arts.

The day’s unspoken theme seemed to be the challenges of making it in today’s economy. But the speakers offered hope. In their congratulatory remarks, Lisa Perry, Textile Technology ’81, owner of Lisa Perry Style, and Joe Zee, Advertising and Communications ’92, creative director at Elle magazine, called upon graduates to cooperate with their classmates for mutual advancement. And both Lauder and Hsieh encouraged the graduates to follow their passion rather than money. Said Hsieh, “Every business has its ups and downs. Your passion is what’s going to get you through the tough times.”

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